White Space as a Badly Needed Broadband Solution

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-09-13 Print this article Print


Adding to the complexity is the existence of licensed users in the frequencies being considered for white space use by the FCC. These users can include such things as wireless television cameras used by television stations and in sports stadiums, wireless microphones used in theaters and concert venues, and a number of other existing uses. Depending on where you are in the spectrum, such use is complicated. This is a very complex assignment process, as you can see from a look at the existing spectrum allocation plan.  

Currently, the FCC is planning to require buffer zones around areas where such licensed users operate, which means that the white space use in Manhattan could have a big blank area around Broadway because of the number of wireless microphones used in the theaters. Imagine, if you will, the confusion that might be caused if you take your wireless Internet device into one of these buffer zones and in the process manage to take Lady Gaga off the air during a concert. 

Adding to the difficulty of allocating chunks of spectrum to digital communications for broadband is the fact that at least some of the white space allocation is going to be location-specific. In addition to the Broadway problem mentioned above, those guard bands exist only in some areas. It's not a stretch to find that the assigned frequencies are not nationwide, but instead are a collection of frequencies that every mobile device must find in order to work. How that might function remains a mystery. 

And of course, this isn't WiFi at all. It's actually a data service operating at a much lower frequency than WiFi that has better range and building penetration characteristics than WiFi, but also greater exposure to interference. For users, it'll seem like WiFi, but it's not. In other words, it's not a solution for iPhone overpopulation. Worse, these frequencies will be allocated for such purposes only in the United States. Everywhere else in the world, they're being used for digital radio. So if you do have a mobile device, it'll only work on those bands in the United States. 

In some ways, the white space solution is a much better solution for fixed wireless than for mobile. It also seems that the FCC realizes this and is already questioning cable companies about the pricing plans for such frequencies.

Fortunately, even if it's mostly fixed wireless, it'll provide a badly needed solution for high-speed data access for underserved areas of the United States, especially rural areas, and in economically distressed areas that are bypassed by the cable companies. If that's the only thing it accomplishes (and surely it won't be), then it's a good thing. 


Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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