FCC to Green Light White Space?

By Cindy Waxer September 14, 2010

At a Sept. 23 open meeting, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to weigh in on new rules that will open up white-spaces spectrum to commercial use. Approval could enable companies to make billions building new products and devices that depend on this much sought-after unlicensed spectrum.

Today’s 300MHz to 400MHz of unused white space is viewed as prime real estate for offering wireless broadband services because it can travel long distances and penetrate through walls. Most Wi-Fi devices operate at 2.4 GHz, whereas, white-space spectrum between analog TV channels 21 and 51 operate in the 512 MHz and 698 MHz range. From a consumer perspective, the technology promises to dramatically increase the availability and quality of wireless Internet connections – a key concern as networks become increasingly congested.

But not everybody’s happy about freeing up white space. TV broadcasters and wireless microphone users argue that the technology may interfere with wireless microphones, medical telemetry, and other technologies that rely on these open frequencies. Meanwhile, tech titans such as Microsoft, Google, Intel, Dell and Motorola, have been working hard to prove that their products minimize interference.

Microsoft, for example, has been testing new technology that leverages the white-spaces spectrum. The Redmond-Wash.-based company has designed a set of protocols it calls ‘WhiteFi,’ which it claims eliminates the need for a dedicated control channel, thereby avoiding interference. In addition, Microsoft proposes a new technique, called SIFT, that enables nodes to rapidly discover base stations operating at different center frequencies using different channel widths by analyzing signals in the time domain. 

Another example of white space usage: the smart grid for Plumas-Sierra County, Calif. is operating via white space. The space in mountainous Plumas-Sierra County is being used for smart grid communication through a partnership involving Google, Spectrum Bridge, and the Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative & Telecommunications utility.

"Plumas, Lassen, and Sierra Counties are located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and present some very technical challenges with respect to wireless coverage. The ability to use white space has proven to be an effective option for dealing with difficult terrain and offers another option for wireless connectivity," Lori Rice, chief operating officer at PSREC, said in a statement.

Details of device requirements for the white-spaces spectrum are expected to be hashed out at the FCC’s Sept. 23 open meeting. In the meantime, companies with an eye on white space are definitely seeing greenbacks.

Edited by Erin Harrison

TechZone360 Contributing Editor

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