Google Wants to Fill in the White Spaces

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-03-24 Print this article Print

Having been kicked to the curb by Verizon in the recently concluded 700MHz spectrum auction block, Google is reaching out with hungry hands to propose mobile broadband services using the TV "white space."

White space spectrum is the unused spectrum between channels 2 and 51 on TV sets that aren't hooked up to satellite or cable services, for unlicensed devices such as smart phones, presumably based on the company's sponsored Android mobile OS.

Google is right in pointing out that this spectrum goes largely unused, which in the United States, is generally a good argument to get your way. Waste not, want not is a good old American credo.

"TV white spaceunused spectrum, large amounts of bandwidth, and excellent propagation characteristicsoffer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide ubiquitous wireless broadband access to all Americans," wrote Richard S. Whitt, Google's Washington Telecom and media counsel, in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission March 21.

"In particular, this spectrum can provide robust infrastructure to serve the needs of under-deployed rural areas, as well as first responders and others in the public safety."

That's funny, I assumed Google wanted to tap the mobile market to boost its declining online advertising castle with Android phones loaded with Google Search and Apps, not because it was interested in helping Auntie Em cast aside her dial-up connection for high-speed broadband to buy antique needlework tools on eBay.

The plea for unlicensed whitespace access is logical follow-up to Google's successful efforts last fall to get the FCC to open up spectrum rules for open applications and devices.

Whitt said in his letter that Android-powered handsets, which should appear later this year, "would be an excellent match for the TV white space," although Google hasn't bet the farm on white space-enabled Android handsets, according to the transcript (and fine analysis) of a conference call posted today on Silicon Alley Insider by Dan Frommer.

Let's get to the point: Google needs these rules loosened to make Android fly high in the face of entrenched incumbents, such as Symbian and Windows Mobile. After losing out in the 700MHz spectrum auction, the Android phones have no place in the spectrum. 

Google is so intent on grabbing some sort of spectrum that Whitt said the company would be willing to provide the technical support to make this happen.

This would include intellectual property and reference designs for underlying technologies, open geo-databases maintained by Google, and other supporting infrastructure. One of these options includes "spectrum sensing," which is designed to prevent signals from interfering with one another.

This will be no easy task; TV broadcasters don't want anyone messing with the channels they lord over. Whitt alluded to the opposition in his letter:

"Technological innovation, and the significant changes it brings, can be a scary prospect for some. But it should not be the government's role to protect the status quo, especially by blocking access to the new."

That is a fair point, but will the FCC extend the same largesse in opening up the C block of 700MHz spectrum (in which the winner, Verizon, must allow devices and applications from other companies to use it) to white spaces?

It remains to be seen. The ball is in the government's court. |

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