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Full Steam Ahead for UHF RFID in Europe

RF spectrum policy makers have reached a big milestone in the goal of expanding UHF RFID to the 915 to 921 MHz band, with the creation of a new roadmap that paves the way for a major upgrade.
By Thomas Weber
Mar 09, 2014

As the seemingly insatiable appetite for spectrum for wireless broadband continues apace—supported by the European Union's spectrum policy program that calls for the 1200 MHz band to be made available—some of our more moderate spectrum users are also ripe for growth. A wide range of highly valuable uses of spectrum are to be found squeezed into a few relatively narrow bands operating as (typically unlicensed) short-range devices (SRD). These devices have a huge significance in our daily lives, whether as assistance for the hearing-impaired, or in bringing down the costs of supermarket goods, or as part of making an intruder alarm system affordable—to give just three examples.

The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT), an organization comprising policy makers and regulators from 48 nations across Europe, is working to improve the efficiency of these bands, and to widen the possibilities for accessing them. This is based on applying a step-by-step, evidence-based process for enabling more generic conditions to be applied to wider spectrum bands than before, instead of slicing the available frequencies into narrow bandwidths for niche applications.

A Major Milestone, Driven by Demand
The CEPT has now reached a milestone in the development and management of frequencies in the favored range just below 1 GHz for RFID and a wide variety of SRD applications, with the creation of a new roadmap that paves the way for a major upgrade of 19 MHz of spectrum. At present, the range of 863 to 870 MHz is used extensively for SRDs. However, these ranges are filling up quickly, and a lot of new applications are anticipated, as noted in ECC Report 182—a survey discussing the use of the 863 to 870 MHz frequency band—and by the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI).

These applications include rising spectrum demands for generic SRD, ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID, home automation and submetering, automotive SRD, smart meters and smart grids, metropolitan mesh machine networks (M3N) applications, alarm and social alarm systems, and assistive-listening devices (including hearing aids). In addition to capacity constraints, the bandwidth of the existing plans has had other impacts; for example, a wider bandwidth for individual RFID devices will improve their performance and function. With mesh machine networks, the required bandwidth of the systems would not fit into the existing narrow bandwidths currently available.

Against this background, we need to take into account two significant considerations. First, on the American continent, the 902 to 928 MHz band is allocated to industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) uses, which is a convenient basis for using SRDs, and a lot of equipment is thus being developed to operate within this range. For Europe, as part of the ITU-R Region 1, no ISM band was identified at the World Administrative Radio Conference (WARC-79) in 1979 in this portion of the spectrum. Second, there are two significant adjacent frequency ranges that are seriously underutilized in many European countries: namely, 870 to 876 MHz and 915 to 921 MHz. These two bands had been prepared for use by private mobile radio systems, but that development has seen very little take-up.

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