Coretron’s Tech Blog

September 26, 2008

The Battle for Airwaves

Filed under: Google, Technology — Tags: , , — coretron @ 5:12 am

Ars Technica has an article giving the whole story of white space spectrum battle. Google has a site called freetheairwaves.com where they make their case through a series of YouTube videos. It is a complex issue with many competing interests. White space easiest described as the unused space in-between TV broadcast channels, it’s estimated that 25-75% of the spectrum goes unused based on your location. Google, Microsoft and other tech companies want to use this space to develop a high-speed wireless data system. The National Association of Broadcasters, cable companies, Verizon, and the wireless microphone industry claim that using white spaces will cause interference. (Comically, some wireless microphone systems already broadcast illegally on white spaces and could be disrupted by new white space devices.) 

The tech companies want more channels to distribute their services, and the broadcasters want to preserve their spectrum from interference. Even if the devices work flawlessly the cable companies and broadcasters will lose. Hulu, iTunes, podcasts, p2p, and all internet media sources are quickly destroying the business model of broadcasters. 

For a white space device to work it has to be able to “find out” what frequancies are being used in that area and only use the ones that arn’t being used. It does this by scanning the spectrum, using geolocation against a database (which Google offers to host), and beacons which could be placed in areas where wireless mics are being used to let the device know that something is reserving that frequency.

Soon the FCC will vote on allowing unlicenced use of the white spaces, and leading up to it have been tests to see if the devices will interfere. Results from past tests have been contested on both sides. In one case Microsoft said the test device was fauly and stressed that the test is on the theory behind the technology and not on the reliability of their prototype device. The NAB issued an ad campaign warning the public of the failed test and telling them the devices will interfere with TV broadcast. Other tests have gone well for the white space technology. 

It only gets more complex as Larry Page, father of Google, recently called the FCC’s field tests “rigged.” He said “The test was rigged deliberately. That’s the kind of thing we’ve been up against here, and I find it despicable.” A Google spokesman said the testers had used the same frequency as local television stations – “in essence hiding within the television spectrum so that the test device could not detect them.” When asked if he thought the FCC had a direct hand in the rigging he said “Broadcasters have been very active in this.”

This is one of the last chances to have an open high speed wireless network. The public needs to know whats at stake and what the possibilities are.

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