Google Moves Forward into White Spaces on the TV Spectrum

Alison K. Lanier

Google is once again moving out into what is, by definition, unexplored territory.

In a recent press release, the Commission’s Office of Engineering and Technology, or OET, announced “that it has granted approval for Google to operate its ‘TV bands database system’ to provide service to the public. This database system will support unlicensed radio devices that transmit on unused channels in the spectrum bands used by broadcast television.”

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Credit: phanlop88

In short, Google will be able to use white space for wireless broadband. White space is the un-utilized frequency that exists between TV broadcast frequencies. There is 300 to 400 megahertz, which is considered highly desirable for data.

Industrial, scientific and medical radio bands, according to Princeton’s definition, are very limited spaces along the broadcast spectrum originally allocated for unlicensed radio transmitters used for industrial, scientific and medical purposes including applications from microwave ovens to hospital data networks.

Over the years, most wireless LAN devices for home and commercial applications have been squeezed into this same space. With the very specific and limited bandwidth space, each section of the spectrum is manipulated using increasingly complex modulation to communicate greater volumes and speeds of data.

Similarly, the spectrum allocated to cell phones is also limited and is becoming overwhelmed by the amount of data transferred to mobile devices. Government auctions of unused bandwidth make bandwidth a valuable commodity while better allocating the unused space for use by companies.

As of Google’s completion of its 45-day trial period, CNET reported, the company joined two other organizations, Spectrum Bridge and Telcordia, who have also completed testing. In addition 10 other companies, Microsoft among them, are hard at work on databases of their own.

White Space and TV Signals

CNET describes that this system of using the unregistered TV spectrum space to meet the demand for data services in the United States has been a concern of the FCC. In 2010, the FCC OK’d a program to allow service providers to use this spectrum space close to, but not occupied by, existing owners.

Concerns arose from TV broadcasters, according to CNET, who believe that programs like Google’s, despite their technically only using unlicensed and unused parts of the broadcast spectrum for their new service, will nevertheless interfere with existing service from TV broadcasts, since the areas of the spectrum lie so close to the ones utilized by existing broadcasters.

Google hosted a test program which took place in South Africa, CNET describes in an earlier article, where Google hoped to disprove these concerns. Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, the public policy manager for Google South Africa, described the company’s hopes for the white space program.

“The technology is well suited to provide low cost connectivity to rural communities with poor telecommunications infrastructure, and for expanding coverage of wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas,” Mgwili-Sibanda said on Google’s official blog, with his announcement of Google’s trial in the Capetown area in March. This is because “white space has the advantage that low frequency signals can travel longer distances.”

Government Broadband Auctions

Establishing these databases is a part of the FCC’s 2010 regulations for utilizing white space. Three years ago, the FCC unanimously agreed to support the use of white space to increase the wireless spectrum, as The New York Times reported.

The FCC, according to The New York Times, will first offer TV broadcasters the opportunity to sell their unwanted spectrum space, and will then auction that unwanted spectrum space off to wireless companies that value that frequency much more highly.

Utilizing White Space for Libraries

The resulting unlicensed broadband frequencies will create something that Gigabit Libraries Network, or GLN, is calling, according to TVTechnology, as “Super Wi-Fi.” In July, GLN called for participation in a pilot program to look into the benefits of utilizing this white space on the spectrum.

Carlson Wireless, Adaptrum Inc., iconectiv, the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, and Microsoft are among the entities standing behind this project.

“The capabilities of White Space or ‘Super Wi-Fi’ technologies to deliver wireless connectivity through barriers such as trees, hills and buildings, combined with value of the Internet will allow libraries to provide broadband access at remote and mobile library sites,” Jim Carlson of Carlson Wireless told TV Technology. “Our RuralConnect product will also allow libraries to create cost effective, in-house network that can help meet their growing bandwidth and information needs.”

Ninety percent of U.S. libraries, according to the site’s report, already supply a source of wireless Internet for free to about 80 million Americans. The Super Wi-Fi program would boost that basic access. Advisor Lev Gonick, CEO of OneCommunity noted that “libraries have served as a destination for those seeking basic Internet access for well over 25 years. The GLN’s new Super Wi-Fi initiative positions the library community at the leading edge of next generation broadband. Access to advanced collaboration technologies and services will further establish libraries as a key community resource for health and wellness, 21st century skills acquisition, and lifelong learning.”

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