Departing from the usual custom of simply asking for additional comments until an issue is obsolete, the FCC yesterday actually did something. They have officially released “white space” spectrum for unlicensed wireless broadband use. That’s the now empty slots of spectrum in the TV Bands that are so good at penetrating obstructions like trees and walls and travel longer distances to boot. Given the increasing demands for wireless spectrum in the face of the iPhone and other devices in the pipeline this was probably inevitable. Efficient spectrum usage is critical – it’s not as if we can make more of it.
It’s not contiguous spectrum, different geographies have different licensed stations still operating within the bands. So devices will need to detect what is ‘white space’ and what is not, and use what is available without interfering with the neighbors. That’s technically possible now, complete with geo-location and daily database lookups by each and every device amongst other details. Nobody can be quite sure how it will all work in practice until it is, well, put in practice, which is why I’m somewhat impressed the FCC managed to get this done in just two years. But if it all goes well, the same sort of opportunistic usage of vacant spectrum could be applied to other frequencies as well.
Who will benefit? The early applications will probably be “super Wifi” and rural backhaul. Beyond that who knows, but here’s some rather hopeful comments from the official order document.
Many other applications are possible, such as broadband access to schools particularly in rural areas, campus networks that are better able to keep pace with user’s increasing demands for bandwidth, home networks that are better able to support real time streaming video applications, remote sensing of water supplies by municipalities and support for the smart grid. The potential uses of this spectrum are limited only by the imagination.
I dunno, Julius, I’ve got a pretty good imagination… I’m pretty sure it won’t be usable for wireless pizza delivery, for instance. But still, it’s a good thing!
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