The Federal Communication Commission [FCC] , which is currently headed by Chairman Genachowsk, has announced that the television “white spaces” will be open for Wi-Fi transmissions. While this might prove an advantage for those seeking additional Wi-Fi signals, television stations are increasingly alarmed that interference with these so-called white spaces could interfere with their television transmission signals.
So what are white spaces and how will this new system become fully operational? White spaces were created when the old analog television frequencies were terminated and then replaced with the newly required digital signals. For lack of a better term, these abandoned analog frequencies became know as white spaces. It was hoped, by those in positions of power, that these unsused frequencies could then be used to improve the current Wi-Fi system that we now have in place. Even at that time, however, the television industry registered complaints with the FCC stating that the use of these white spaces by others could interfere with its ability to maintain its current quality of television broadcast.
In answer to the television industry’s concerns, the FCC was assigned the task of determining if the use of these frequencies could, in fact, hamper the ability of existing broadcast networks to successfully operate without interfering with their broadcast transmissions. While this may not be as big of an issue to those of us living in urban areas where cable is readily available, it can be of great importance to those of us who live in the fringe areas. By fringe area, I am referring to a rural area or any other area where Wi-Fi access is limited. I can recall a time when my family and I lived in a small town located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California that was considered a fringe area. Being the country cousins, we were at a disadvantage to our city counterparts when it came to Internet access. At the time, it was quite frustrating to me to see my city cousins getting broadband with what I considered lightning speeds, while we were hobbled with a dial-up connection.
This difference in connection speed resulted in some of the people I knew paying a premium rate to get a satellite Internet connection for a single computer. So, with this experience still fresh in my mind, I can only imagine how frustrated those in extreme rural areas must feel today when they hear how this new adaptation for using white spaces may trip up any hope that they may have had over being able to enter into the 21st century. Despite these concerns or possible disappointments, however, the FCC has made the decision to proceed with caution in assigning and using these white spaces.
By caution, I mean that the FCC intends to take baby steps in implementing the use of these white spaces. Its current plan is for a roll-out of services to begin on January 26, 2012, and only in Wilmington, NC, and its surrounding areas. To accomplish this trial, the FCC has limited its authorization to two companies. The first is Koos Technical Services [KTS Wireless], which has developed the hardware that the FCC has deemed to meet its guidelines for white space use. The second, Spectrum Bridge, developed the required software component needed to operate the hardware and was the first company authorized to administer the databases and assignment of frequencies. However, after Spectrum Bridge was on board, the FCC approved both Google and Microsoft to also administer the databases and assignment of frequencies.
As previously mentioned, the Wilmington, NC area will be the first test area for the new Wi-Fi on steroids. If the trial here supports the FCC’s initial hopes and confirms that the use of white spaces does not impact television transmissions, then the trial may be expanded to other areas. The FCC believes that this small area will give it the necessary statistics to ascertain if it can allow this new technology to roll out across the US without interfering with television broadcasts.
So why was Wilmington, NC chosen as the first test area for testing the white space spectrum? According to the StarNews Online, a local newspaper for the Wilmington area, the city was selected because there was an abundance of white space, a small population to deal with, and a large number of residents already using broadband. It should be noted that Wilmington may also have been chosen as a result of its inclusion in the 2008 study when consumers were required to change over from analog to digital television. That means that, once again, the residents of Wilmington will be under the microscope by the technology community to determine just how well white space can be utilized and if, in fact, the use of the white space will interfere with local broadcasting.
Now that I have covered all of the fluff that has come with the FCC’s announcement, it only stands to reason that it must have some valid concerns or why would it be taking baby steps in deploying the use of white space? We also should not find ourselves complacent just because Google and Microsoft have jumped on the bandwagon; this doesn’t mean that this new attempt at increasing the uses of Wi-Fi via the white space spectrum will be a shoe-in. However, I am of the belief that this experiment needs to succeed as we are quickly discovering that our current radio waves are now at a premium. Just think about it. We currently use this valuable resource for many of our everyday needs from opening our garage doors, remotely changing our television stations, and using our key fobs to open our vehicles. These are in addition to keeping us connected to each other, sometimes minute to minute, via radio, television, and Internet connections.
This basically means that as we continue to gobble up space and rely more on radio transmissions, our ability to utilize the spectrum for all uses will need to be expanded. One would hope that we, as a nation, are not putting all of our eggs in one basket and hoping that white spaces will work without a backup plan. One thing we know for sure is that our consumption and demand for bandwidth is not going away anytime soon. So, while the use of white spaces seems the most practical and easiest to use, if this experiment fails, what next?
What do you think? Share your thoughts with us.