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Summary:

The Wireless Innovation Alliance today is making another charge in the war between those trying to keep the unused spectrum between digital television channels clear, and those trying to use that spectrum for wireless broadband. Those so-called white spaces are the last chance for wireless broadband […]

The Wireless Innovation Alliance today is making another charge in the war between those trying to keep the unused spectrum between digital television channels clear, and those trying to use that spectrum for wireless broadband. Those so-called white spaces are the last chance for wireless broadband competition in the eyes of the Alliance and the only buffer between interference and your television channels according to the National Association of Broadcasters. Purveyors and users of wireless microphones operating in that spectrum are concerned as well.

Today at an event in Washington, members of the Alliance, including executives from Google, Motorola, Dell and Microsoft are rallying to encourage politicians and the FCC to adopt the use of white space for wireless broadband, and make sure the spectrum stays unlicensed. Gary Grube, a senior fellow at Motorola, says that recent tests prove that broadband can be delivered via the white spaces without interference, so the only issue is how the FCC will rule on it.

“The No. 1 question is, should this go the path of traditional licensed spectrum or unlicensed spectrum?” said Grube. “The technology today is capable of providing a very good experience with an unlicensed approach, and we don’t need a licensed model to control interference.”

A Dell executive compared the white spaces potential to that of another unlicensed technology — Wi-Fi. Neeraj Srivastava, director of technology policy in the office of the CTO at Dell, said white spaces broadband could be a more efficient and economical choice than Wi-Fi for creating a public broadband network. He says the technology would co-exist with cellular and WiMAX for wide area networks and Wi-Fi for in-home, campus-wide or in-office coverage. White spaces broadband has the potential to offer users tens of megabits per second and could boost rural broadband penetration, according to members of the Alliance.

However, public meetings in Washington can only do so much. Until the FCC weighs in with its rules on the spectrum and the specifics of how white spaces broadband may proceed (something expected later this year), it’s hard to say how the technology will roll out — or if it will. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has offered generic statements about making full use of spectrum, but with this sort of issue the devil is in the details.

The technical rules adopted, including whether or not the spectrum will be licensed, will determine the fate of white space services. If the power levels, which govern how loud a device and tower can shout to each other, are set very low, white-space broadband devices would be limited to a smaller range, making large area coverage more expensive. Likewise, the FCC’s decision on how much of a buffer to build between television signals and broadband signals could make it difficult to find enough channels to actually deliver the service in areas with a lot of broadcast channels. That would make the whites spaces broadband difficult to use in urban settings.

It’s possible that when it comes to using white spaces to offer a competitive wireless broadband service, proponents could win the battle of getting the FCC to approve the use of white spaces for broadband, but still lose the war when that broadband is so curtailed that it’s not usable.

  1. It’s very sad that so little attention is being paid to this. The potential 20yr impact on the economy is about the same as the $700B Banking Bailout that is currently dominating the news. If the FCC does the right thing its hundreds of billions in GDP growth and if not its hundreds of billions lost by preserving a broken status quo. That right thing being to keep the spectrum unlicensed, but mandate smart technology that adjusts frequency, bandwidth, and power level on the fly based on local RF conditions. If done right you get a new WiFi variant that gives you mile+ coverage radii in rural areas and vastly increased building penetration in urban areas.

  2. Why There Won’t Be Broadband Competition Anytime Soon – GigaOM Friday, September 26, 2008

    [...] answer, perhaps through schemes such as the D Block auction, spectrum grabs by M2Z Networks and white space initiatives. If you believe that, then you also believe that that you can walk away a winner from a game of [...]

  3. NYCwireless | NYCwireless Testimony for NY City Council Hearing: The Regulation and Use of the Unallocated Portion of the Radio Spectrum, Also Known as White Spaces Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    [...] Wireless Future Program Free Press, White Spaces: Bringing the Internet to Everyone GigaOm: 1 and 2 People’s Production [...]

  4. Cox Unveils Wireless Plans to Keeps Telcos on the Offensive – GigaOM Monday, October 27, 2008

    [...] the cable companies’ entrance into the wireless market, as well as Google’s white spaces proposal, and even the creation of a free, filtered wireless broadband network, we may eventually see [...]

  5. God & Country Line Up to Stop White Spaces – GigaOM Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    [...] Association of Broadcasters have become increasingly vocal leading up the the FCC vote, claiming broadband service in that spectrum would cause undue interference to microphones and television channels. The FCC earlier this month issued a report downplaying [...]

  6. God & Country Line Up to Stop White Spaces – GigaOM Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    [...] Association of Broadcasters have become increasingly vocal leading up the the FCC vote, claiming broadband service in that spectrum would cause undue interference to microphones and television channels. The FCC earlier this month issued a report downplaying [...]

  7. Steve’s Tech Journal » Important vote tomorrow Monday, November 3, 2008

    [...] Counsel, has a nice post from last week that summarizes the white space issue.  Om wrote about white space here, David Isenberg is in favor of white space broadband but says it doesn’t go far [...]

  8. Free the Airwaves: All of Them – GigaOM Tuesday, November 4, 2008

    [...] Federal Communication Commission will vote on two large wireless mergers and issue rules regarding a proposal to create an alternative wireless broadband network in the unused spectrum between digital television stations. Between the white spaces issue [...]

  9. Google Wins Big at FCC Today – GigaOM Tuesday, November 4, 2008

    [...] allowing broadband-enabled devices to operate in the white spaces between the digital television spectrum was a bit more nuanced. The acceptance of the white spaces broadband is significant, but the FCC will impose a [...]

  10. Google Victory: Broadband Permitted in the “White Spaces” Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    [...] of the South being on the wrong side of history) as did this megachurch pastor. More background here and [...]

  11. FCC To Rule on Nationwide Porn-Free Wireless Web – GigaOM Monday, December 1, 2008

    [...] the one held last month on election day. The November meeting approved two mergers and created the potential for free wireless spectrum over the protests of broadcasters. This upcoming meeting could create free, licensed wireless [...]

  12. FCC Nominee Favors Creative Spectrum Use Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    [...] the creative use of spectrum,” and went on to laud mobile broadband technology. Whites spaces broadband is an effort to provide broadband in the spectrum that exists between the digital television [...]

  13. Google Wants YOU to Fight a Beltway Battle for Broadband Thursday, July 16, 2009

    [...] made a similar effort to get people involved in the debate over white spaces, the attempt to deliver broadband between the channels in the digital TV spectrum, which was [...]

  14. The New FCC and a Small Reality Check – GigaOM Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    [...] I asked a staffer when the event was over if bringing more unlicensed spectrum on board was politically feasible. Because spectrum is a government resource that private companies will pay dearly for (the 700 MHz auction generated more than $19 billion), Congress may be loathe to give up that source of revenue. The staffer said he thinks getting more unlicensed spectrum is likely and hopes that any unlicensed spectrum could be offered in a single chunk rather than split up in small chunks such as the current spectrum set aside for white spaces broadband. [...]

  15. Will We Soon Have Gigantic Wireless Hotspots? Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    [...] allow for potential interference issues. But other details have to be addressed as well: the level of transmission power, for example, may require FCC guidelines else devices become confused by a wireless shouting [...]

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