Google's Larry Page and FCC's Kevin Martin Laud White Spaces for unlicensed BWA

Google co-founder Larry Page was very encouraged about the FCC’s November 4th decision to open up white spaces (the unused portions of the new digital TV frequency bands- up to 700 MHz) for unlicensed Broadband Wireless Access (BWA). "White spaces are very important for the future of wireless broadband," Page said in his openning remarks. "Signals will propagate walls and go longer distances then would be possible with WiFi. You will need far fewer transmitters then with 2.4 GHz operation and therefore the unlicensed BWA service using white spaces (the available white space airwaves are in the 700 MHz band) would be cheaper."

Page said Google has taken the lead in lobbying for white spaces for both economic and philosophical reasons. He said if wireless users can get cheap, pervasive Internet access that "just works" everywhere, it will mean more Google searches and a potential 20 to 30 percent increase in advertising revenue. As an example, Page referenced how successful and cost effective WiFi hotspots were. He noted that AT&T had just bought Waveport, which operates most of those hotspots in the U.S. That brought AT&T’s U.S. hotspot holding to 20,000. AT&T pays $27,000 for each access point, but with white spaces, those access points could go five times further, and reduce costs, according to Page. The goal is to make broadband wireless access cheaper and more available.
Google’s interest in wireless broadband networks is not to be an operator, but rather to do deals with lots of wireless carriers and broadband service providers, e.g. putting Google maps on more cell phones. They have been working on the white-spaces concept for about six years, according to Page. "We have a small group that was working on interesting wireless ideas and they got really excited about this, and that’s how we got into it," he said.
While not refering to a technology or standard, Page said he expected (or hoped) devices and wireless networks that operated in the white spaces spectrum would be available in 18 months. Page said the goal is to push down the price of chipsets that can handle white spaces to make them easy to deploy in mobile devices. Ultimately, he’d like to see radios that could handle multiple wireless technologies, allowing people to stay connected wherever they went.
In a subsequent Press Conference, this author raised the importance of standards and interoperability PRIOR to design of devices or wireless networks. Page acknowledged same and backed off his 18 month prediction for mobile devices operating in the white space spectrum. He agreed that standards would be needed for interoperability and economies of scale. "I hope the standards can be done quickly," he said. It was later determined that the applicable standard is IEEE 802.22 Wireless Regional Area Networks (WRAN), which we have previously covered (in 2005).
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin

said the FCC went to great lengths to meet the concerns of broadcasters and live performers, who worried that utilizing white spaces would interfere with TV signals and wireless microphones. Martin was confident there would be no interference between white spaces and wireless microphones. "The irony of the situation is that wireless mics were a great example of how this spectrum could be used on an unlicensed basis," Martin said. "Wireless mics are not licensed and indeed, many of the wireless mics that are in use didn’t even go through the FCC certification process the way they were originally supposed to. They were actually an example of how you could use this capability without interfering with your broadcast television signals."
He said there were a lot of discussion on power limits of wireless transmitters and if they could be raised in rural areas where there would be less interferrence. The FCC is preparing a "formulaic response" to determine power limits under various conditions. Future white space devices will auto sense operating TV channels and avoid those frequencies. The devices could also do a data base lookup to determine what white space frequencies were available in a given geographical area. I later asked Martin if the FCC had constructed a contour map, showing which white space frequencies would be available in each US geographical area. He replied that the FCC had all that information from digital TV broadcasters in a data base, but had not published such contour maps yet.
Martin said Google was helpful in developing ways of using geo-location for devices, so they will be able to identify existing TV channels and wireless users and avoid interfering with them. (Location information can be checked against a database of broadcasters and their coverage areas if available on line). "We certainly benefited tremendously from people like Larry who came in and tried to explain both how it was to be done without interfering and how important it was to get the connectivity he was talking about," Martin said. With the FCC’s recent decision, the U.S. can push the use of white spaces abroad, helping spur development in this area. Page chimed in that if the pieces fall into place, it could help the United States regain its leadership position in broadband penetration and wireless innovation.
White space technology is "readily available" and should "be very easy to incorporate" into certain devices, Martin said. "It’s still a little ways off, [but] could end up happening pretty quick," he said at the Press Conference. "We are moving from a walled garden to an open environment for application providers to take advantage of." (Of course that assumes that the wireless network operating on the white spaces will use open platforms or the operator will encourage open devices and applications (as VZW claims they will do).

In a subsequent FCC-NARUC Broadband Summit session White Spaces- Access to the future, Google’s Doug Garland, VP of Product Management, stated that white spaces have the potential to transform the broadband market by providing mobile broadband access to underserved areas. The key is the ability to provide service ubquitously across all types of users.

The Economics of White Spaces depends on several factors:

  • Economic viability of rural markets depends on volumes generated in major markets
  • Rules must work for both rural and major markets
  • Unnecessary constraints on adjacent channel power levels could limit market opportunity in major markets
  • If so, device volumes would be lower,creating higher costs which would constrain wide deployment in all areas

A "New Wireless Broadband Wave" could result from widespread use of white spaces for BWA:

  • Unlicensed use of white spaces can enable ubiquitous operaton- like WiFi (strong propagation characteristics, unlicensed operation, over 4 years of consideration and testing)
  • FCC’s draft white spaces order adopts the right general framework
  • The Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) has confirmed that digital TV channels that are in use can be protected by leveraging spectrum sensing and geo- location databases
  • The FCC should ensure that their order does not unnecessarily constrain commercal feasibility of broadband WiFi service.

In conclusion, Garland strongly supported the FCC white spaces decision and reiterated that unlicensed use of white spaces can unleash the exciting promise of "ubiquitous WiFi."
Microsoft, Google Fighting for Unused Spectrum between TV Channels
, Larry Greenemeier in Scientfic American

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