White Space – The Debate Over Free Wireless Spectrum

With the announcement of the website FreetheAirWaves.com by Google in order to support the white space campaign, the debate over the “white space” issue has reached a new level.

In terms of Google white space is the space of unused frequencies in the range traditionally defined for TV channels. Google and some other leading companies wants to transform this range from licensed, like TV where specific frequencies are granted exclusively to a specific channel, to unlicensed, like Wi-Fi where anyone can use it. They call it “Wi-Fi on steroids.” The spectrum would enable longer-range, higher data rate, and faster wireless connectivity for all types of gadgets.

Along with Google other technology companies like Intel, Dell, HP, Microsoft, and Phillips Electronics are united in a coalition called the Wireless Innovation Alliance. They have been lobbying the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to open up this spectrum for unlicensed use after the digital TV transition early next year.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and phone companies are entirely against this initiative. The Television and phone companies want exclusive rights to various frequencies. These spectrum that sit idle between TV channels as buffers, in order to ensure that TV signals don’t interfere with each other, could be used to provide broadband wireless services. But according to the broadcasters, these channels will cause interference with their TV signals and eventually resulting in major problems for people watching TV.

The FCC has done a number of testing of the spectrum to see if wireless devices will interfere with each other. The results of the tests have been mixed. But Google has make out a solution for this problem. Now it is proposing new rules to designate specific frequencies for TVs, wireless microphones, and for other devices, and then another spectrum for wireless Internet access.

Next month the FCC is likely to release a report based on the test results. It will finally vote on whether to open the spectrum in the next few months. This issue has become as much of a political debate as it has a technical one. The National Association of Broadcasters is pointing that interference can’t be avoided, based on tests as evidence. While Google and other technology companies argue that these are simply proof of concept devices and are not even like the prototypes that could be used in commercial products.

NAB and other Wireless companies, such as Verizon are opposing the use of white spaces because they have their own business motivations for opposing the use of white spaces. The afraid of interference might be a concern for the NAB but the more prominent reason for opposing this concept is that its members are reluctant to give up control of airwaves, which they believes are theirs.

Along with other technology companies, Google has its own motivations and interests to consider. Google can make more from advertising if more wireless spectrum and broadband services are available. Other companies like Intel, Microsoft, and Motorola would also be benefited as they could sell more products and services to consumers who use this unlicensed spectrum.