Waste of White Space?
Unused TV airwaves are set to underpin the next generation of wireless products, according to Larry Page, co-founder of Google. Tim Hoang reports.
The unused airwaves, also called "white-space", have already been tested by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to assess whether soon-to-be-vacant portions of the spectrum are a possibility for wireless access.
Speaking to the FCC and US Congress, Page expressed his concern that unused TV airwaves were a missed opportunity for the country.
Above: Larry Page, Google co-founder.
According to Page, the white-spaces were an ideal opportunity to push more advanced technologies as the airwaves have a much longer range. Supporters of the initiative say that the networks would allow more advanced applications on wireless devices such as movies and other rich media content.
Google has already had its appeal to win licenses in the FCC's auction of valuable spectrum in the 700-MHz range turned down. But Page continued to lobby the US Congress and claimed that by making the spectrum available it would also mean faster Internet connectivity and therefore more efficient businesses.
"If we have 10 percent better connectivity in the US, we get 10 percent more revenue in the US, and those are big numbers for us," Page said.
However, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) claim that using the white-space for wireless service could have a negative impact on the quality of existing TV broadcasts.
"Given the numerous device failures that have resulted during FCC testing, it seems a little disingenuous for Mr. Page to simply dismiss the interference concerns. Jeopardising the future of digital television with an unproven technology would be unwise and unwarranted," said Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton in a statement.
Page retaliated by claiming that geo-location technology and wireless protection beams will eliminate those concerns.
"I think the debate's really been politicised," Page said. "I am totally confident that if we have rules that say you can use the spectrum under conditions that you cause no interference, that those devices will get produced. And, in fact, hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested in making those devices non-interfering."
Lobbying for space
Google, with Microsoft, Dell, Intel and a number of other organisations, has also formed the Wireless Innovation Alliance (WIA) which lobbies the FCC to allow the white-space spectrum to be used. Ads have recently appeared in Washington publications criticising the NAB and citing how the group initially opposed the likes of cable TV and VCRs.
Reports have claimed that FCC tests of devices for the white-space spectrum have resulted in several devices malfunctioning. While the FCC has not made any formal comment, it seems likely that it will not allow any services to use white-space if it interferes with TV broadcasts.
Page however, is optimistic that eventually the general public will be able to access high-speed connections from their mobile devices. "I bet 100 per cent that it will happen. It's just a question of what year," he reportedly said.
The white-space spectrum will be available in February, 2009 as TV broadcasters make the leap from analogue to digital signals. The FCC has said it will announce a schedule for field testing the devices after lab tests have been concluded.