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New spectrum allocations for radio ID tags, smart metering networks

Communications and Information Technology Minister Steven Joyce today announced the government will be making more radio spectrum available for new and emerging commercial technologies. 

Radio frequency identification (RFID) systems such as those used in supply chain management and radio mesh networks used for smart metering will both benefit from the changes.

Mr Joyce says RFID and smart meters are technologies that can deliver significant benefits to New Zealand industry from productivity gains. 

“Allocating more spectrum for these technologies will make it cheaper to deploy systems using them, and will encourage uptake.”

The decisions follow a Ministry of Economic Development review of spectrum use in the 806-960 MHz, band and consultation with industry.  The other key outcome is provision of more spectrum for use in linking radio broadcast studios to transmitter sites.  This will ease congestion the radio broadcasters are experiencing with frequency availability in the main cities.

The changes will be phased in over different timeframes to allow existing users of affected spectrum to transition to a different frequency.  An immediate change is to allow higher power short-range devices in the 921.5 928 MHz frequency range.  This meets existing demand for RFID use in particular.
A full list of the changes and the Ministry of Economic Development’s report on the project is available at www.rsm.govt.nz.

Question and answers

1. What is RFID?
RFID stands for radio frequency identification.  RFID is a system where readers capture data from tags and transmit it to a computer system.  Examples of this are toll systems (where a vehicle with an RFID tag passes a reader and the toll is deducted) and inventory management systems.  In the UHF spectrum (of which 806-960 MHz is a part), higher power RFID devices are useful for gateway-type applications or where accurate reads at a distance are needed, e.g., case, pallet, and shipping container tracking.

2. What are radio mesh networks?
A radio mesh network is a communications network made up of radio nodes.  The nodes can communicate with each other directly or through intermediate nodes (making a “mesh”).  In electricity smart meter systems using this technology, the meters each contain a radio that transmits data on electricity usage through the mesh back to the company.  This is a cost-effective way of doing remote metering.

3. What are studio-to-transmitter links?
A studio-to-transmitter link is a one-way link between a radio broadcast studio, where the programme is made, and the transmitter that broadcasts the programme.  Radio studios use the link to transport their programmes to the transmitter.

4. Why has the government reviewed this radio spectrum band?
There was an opportunity for allocating unused spectrum in the range 841 849 MHz, which came about after some cellular spectrum in the band was swapped around.

5. Who will be affected by these changes?
The industries most affected are radio broadcasting, logistics and supply chain management, and utility metering.

6. What changes will be implemented, when?
Immediate changes are:
• 841-849 MHz – allocate for studio-to-transmitter links [currently unused]
• 868-870 MHz – allow low-power short-range devices (2 milliwatts) [to operate on a non-interference basis with existing use by land mobile radio in 868-869 MHz]
• 921.5 – 928 MHz – allow higher power short-range devices (includes RFID) to operate with a peak power of 4 watts [currently restricted to 1 watt]
• 928-929 MHz – allocate for studio-to-transmitter links [currently allocated for short-range devices and radio amateurs].

Following a five-year transition period, additional changes will be:
• 915-921 MHz – allow short-range devices (up to 1 watt) and radio amateurs [currently used for studio-to-transmitter links]
• 920-921.5 MHz – more frequencies for higher power short-range devices to operate with a peak power of 4 watts.