Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Google Launches "Free The Airwaves"

Google's been chomping at the bit over "white space," which is unused spectrum that resides next to broadcast TV spectrum, for some time now. On Monday it, announced the launch of Free the Airwaves, a site promoting the unlicensed use of "white space" spectrum.

While definitely not altruistic, it certainly sells itself as such, saying its aim is to "Bring wireless Internet to everyone, everywhere."

In their blog post announcing the site, Google said:
For quite some time we've been talking about the potential of the unused airwaves between broadcast TV channels ("white spaces") to provide affordable, high-speed wireless Internet connectivity nationwide. For this to happen, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must allow unlicensed use of this spectrum.

If you care about the future of the Internet, now is the time to take action. The FCC has completed its field testing and is expected to make a ruling in the coming months. With this in mind, today we're launching Free The Airwaves, a new effort to bring users together around this important issue.

At its core, Free The Airwaves is a call to action for everyday users. You don't need to be a telecommunications expert to understand that freeing the "white spaces" has the potential to transform wireless Internet as we know it. When you visit the site, you'll be invited to film a video response explaining what increased Internet access could mean for you, to sign a petition to the FCC, to contact your elected officials, to spread the word, and more.
The site has a number of video testimonials on the subject of "white space," including Matthew Rantanen of Tribal Digital Village, Wally Bowen of the Mountain Area Information Network, and others.

But, as I said, it's not altruistic. In March, in an ex parte filing with the FCC (.PDF), Google's Washington-based counsel Richard Whitt advised commissioners that the abundance of unused airspace could provide "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide ubiquitous wireless broadband access to all Americans."

But he also went on to cite how it could help Google's bid to launch services on Android phones:
"Coupled with the 'Android' open source platform for mobile consumer devices, TV white spaces can provide uniquely low-cost mobile broadband coverage for all Americans. As announced last fall, over thirty other companies are working with Google through the Open Handset Alliance to develop a fully open source software stack, including the operating system, middleware, and user applications. Android-powered handsets should begin appearing commercially later this year, and would be an excellent match for the TV white space."
It may be a little too early to tell if this is all technically feasible. If this is to work, "white space devices"must be able to detect when designated frequencies are in use by other transmitters, and then shift their own frequencies. We know how well that works on wireless-n routers which are supposed to shift frequencies to prevent "bad neighbor" behavior.

We already have enough problems just making 3G work, whether it's on the iPhone or not; many believe trying to sneak into the unused spaces in the spectrum is just asking for trouble.

The FCC is expected to announce its test findings next month.


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