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White Spaces: The Wait for Devices

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on November 5, 2008

The FCC’s decision to open up more spectrum for mobile wireless, reported yesterday by my colleague Olga Kharif, is a big step forward. But it’s going to be some time before products emerge to take advantage of “white spaces.” I think the 12 to 18 months predicted by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is probably wildly optimistic.

The FCC voted unanimously on Nov. 4 to permit low-power devices to operate on the television channels that go unused in every market. The first impediment is the likelihood that the National Assn. of Broadcasters, which fiercely opposed the move, will go to court or seek Congressional action—or most likely, both—to overturn the FCC action. In a statement issued after the vote, NAB Executive Vice-President Dennis Wharton said: “Fortunately, today’s vote is just the beginning of a fight on behalf of the 110 million households that rely on television for news, entertainment, and lifesaving emergency information. Going forward, NAB and our allies will work with policymakers to ensure that consumers can access innovative broadband applications without jeopardizing interference-free TV.” Based on the history of these things, there isn’t a lot of doubt about what “just the beginning of the fight” means. The broadcasters may not prevail in the end, but a lawsuit or legislative fight will discourage investment in white space technologies until the dust settles.

Second, there is the not inconsiderable matter of the technical challenges facing engineers seeking to build white space products. To deal with the broadcasters' vastly overstated but still legitimate concerns that these devices may interfere with over-the-air television, the FCC imposed two requirements. One is that white space devices must check a geographical database to find what channels are occupied at their location. And the devices' radios must listen to find out what is operating on a channel before they begin transmitting and back off if they sense interference with licensed broadcasts. Advocated of white space use convinced the FCC that such radios can be built, but the fact is that they do not currently exist, at least not in a form that can economically be installed in consumer products.

I think the freeing of the white space spectrum will ultimately be a big boost to mobile wireless. Just don't expect to find a white space-capable handheld in you Christmas stocking this year, or next, or maybe in 2010.

Reader Comments


November 6, 2008 7:58 AM

I'm sorry...does anyone proof-read their pieces anymore? Anyone?

November 7, 2008 5:29 AM

Nice news


November 7, 2008 6:16 AM

The established Broadcasters desperately want to keep the 110 million households for themselves, and leave everything as it is.

They are afraid of an unlimited amount of Youtube channels and a new set-top-box provide unfiltered amount to all the video content ever made all over the world.

Fact is broadcasters will quickly loose of those 110 million households, cause people don't want to see broadcasters crappy programming filled with more advertising then content. People are sick and tired of commercial films, music and series.

The established ISPs and cell phone service providers want to keep the 110 million households for themselves as well. They know they may loose all of their current multi-trillion dollar monopolistic industry when wireless Internet is free for all through free white spaces roaming.

Fact is FCC is the ultimate authority on the matter, they are unanimous. Fact is Obama has it in his agenda to open up the spectrum and free it up to remove established media companies monopoly on resources and infrastructure.

Fact is by the next election, everyone will be streaming HD quality election coverage from HD Youtube with NO CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, ATT, Comcast or other crap networks dominating the way people get their information.


November 7, 2008 11:11 AM

I think it would be nice to use this bandwidth for neighborhood networks. Neighbors could pool their internet access funds and maybe get much better service than they could otherwise justify.

Danny G Ferguson

November 7, 2008 12:33 PM

I cannot more thoroughly disagree with this article. It appears after reading some articles that Apple and Motorola and Google are chomping at the bit to get this out and i would hazzard a guess that Apple in true form as they do very often are already developing software and hardware to take advantage of this new spectrum. All that needs to be done is to change the blue tooth or wi-fi to this new format and wolla you have a device that can be used throughout your household and with other devices in your neighborhood. i've already seen this with wi-fi. Other peoples computers show up on my mac in the neighborhood.


November 17, 2008 6:28 AM

These guys are already manufacturing commercial-grade white space radio device not just for broadband, but also innovative uses such as long-range radio control of devices and data transmissions.

Think smart traffic signals that's solar-powered with LED signal lights, with software-defined signal processing, video streaming of traffic conditions, image/on-ground traffic sensors, automated with central control and central data processing. ALL WIRELESS and GREEN!

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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