Thursday, September 23, 2010

FCC vote frees 'white space' for use

Here comes "wi-fi on steroids." The FCC on Thursday announced a decision that opens up the "white space" between TV channels for unlicensed use. This could open up a whole range of uses, as the area of spectrum most coveted would have long-range capabilities.

White space is the unused spectrum between TV channels. The 300 - 400 MHz spectrum is considered prime real estate and would be perfect for wireless broadband because it can travel long distances and penetrate walls. Simply put, the higher the frequency, the shorter the range. Additionally, lower freqnency signals can pass through walls more easily.

Typical 802.11n wi-fi runs at 2.4GHz (as opposed to the lower frequency MHz mentioned above) or 5GHz. With the lower frequencies of that white space, the new wi-fi would truly be on steroids. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the following in his prepared remarks:
"We know from experience that unlicensed spectrum can trigger unexpected but hugely beneficial innovation. For example, years ago, there was a band of low-quality spectrum that was lying fallow. Nobody could figure out what to do with this so-called 'junk band,' so the FCC decided to free it up as unlicensed spectrum. The result was a wave of new technologies – baby monitors, cordless phones, and eventually a real game changer: Wi-Fi. Today, Wi-Fi is a multi-billion industry and an essential part of the mobile ecosystem."
One might expect both Google and Microsoft to be particularly interested in this decision, and they both issued statements on it. Google's came in the form of a blog post, where they said, in part:
Chairman Genachowski and his fellow Commissioners deserve ample credit for adopting rules that ultimately will put better and faster wireless broadband connections in the hands of the public. We’re glad to see that the FCC appears to have rejected calls to enact burdensome and unnecessary constraints that would have made it more difficult to deploy useful technologies on these airwaves. Instead, the Commission has put forward common-sense rules that will help encourage innovation, while fully safeguarding incumbent signals from interference.
Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, Craig Mundie, issued the following statement:
“As more people access information via mobile and other intelligent devices, additional strain is being put on existing wireless networks. Microsoft appreciates the hard work by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and the other FCC Commissioners and Congress leading up to this vote. Their action will deliver greater broadband connectivity to consumers, and promote growth and investment in a new generation of wireless broadband technologies.

“With this vote, the Commission is taking a forward-looking view of how to optimize spectrum allocation by capitalizing on evolving technologies. As a result, technology companies will be able to develop new applications that tap into the potential of white spaces networks. On Microsoft’s own campus in Redmond, WA, a prototype ‘White-Fi’ system delivers more economical broadband Internet access for employees traveling between buildings on the campus. The FCC’s decision will create opportunities for American companies to remain at the forefront of technological innovation.”
The FCC first voted to allow the use of white space nearly two years ago. However, TV broadcasters were concerned about possible interference with OTA signals, and wireless microphone manufacturers raising similar concerns.

To ameliorate those concerns, along with Thursday's unanimous vote comes a mandate to create a database and map of TV channels across the nation as well as areas with large wireless microphone use (such as theaters). To prevent interference, white space networks and devices will need to determine their location and compare it to the database to find vacant spectrum to use. The FCC added that it would set aside at least two channels for minor usage of wireless microphones.

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