white space networks
The white space spectrum--unlicensed airwaves made available by digital broadcasting--will enable wireless networks to have far greater range and reliability. Image: Thinkstock

“White space” is the term for portions of the television broadcast spectrum that are unlicensed and therefore, unused. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed opening white space to the public for wireless networks. White space for wireless is being called “white-fi” and “Wi-Fi on steroids.” White space wireless will enable supercharged networks that could end hunting for a Wi-Fi hot spot forever. Wi-Fi on steroids will lead to the development of new devices using new applications yet to be imagined. Many believe white space will unleash economic opportunity worth billions to small start-up companies free to use the unlicensed spectrum.

The white space wireless revolution

The FCC is expected to announce that white space will be made publicly available for use in wireless networks on Sept. 23. The New York Times reports that Wi-Fi  on steroids will be enabled by the unused bands of the TV spectrum freed up by the conversion from analog to digital. Digital transmission uses a narrower band of the television broadcast spectrum, creating more white space around each broadcast signal. White space is coveted by wireless innovators because TV signals are low-frequency waves that travel farther, go through walls easier and deliver more reliable connections. By making the white space spectrum available free, the FCC could start a technological revolution the same way it did in 1985, when opening unlicensed spectrum led to TV remotes, garage door openers and today’s wireless networks.

White space network concerns

Not everyone is thrilled about the prospect of Wi-Fi on steroids. PC World reports that broadcast television networks and businesses using wireless microphones, such as theaters and sports arenas, have opposed the liberation of white space. The concern is that wireless networks with a range of several miles, instead of several yards, will interfere with their signal. However, to keep devices using the white space spectrum from interfering, the FCC has created a database of TV channels and wireless microphone usage. Devices would need to be configured to avoid the frequencies in use in a given area. The technology could be location-aware, automatically selecting frequencies using the FCC database.

Wi-Fi on steroids in action

Wi-Fi on steroids using the white-space spectrum is being tested in several locations. The Register reports that Microsoft has installed a white space network on its campus in Redmond, Wash. Microsoft’s “white-fi” network is providing connectivity to shuttle buses and buildings spanning its 500-acre campus from only two hot-spots. The Times article mentions a trial white space network in New Hanover County, N.C. The transportation department uses white space to connect with remote cameras that monitor traffic congestion. The parks department monitors wetland areas and transmits environmental data required by federal regulators — saving the cost of sending employees to remote locations. Wi-Fi on steroids could eventually lead to such innovations as smart electric grids, remote health monitoring and other billion-dollar industries.


New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/13/technology/13wifi.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&src=busln

PC World: http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/205332/fcc_paving_the_way_to_wifi_on_steroids.html?tk=hp_new

The Register: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/09/13/white_space/

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