Enthusiasm for White Space Creates Exciting Research Projects

Carl Weinschenk

Last week, I blogged about the two ways to meet the increasing demands the wireless world is making on spectrum: Open more for consumer use and improve the efficiency in what already is in use. I mostly dealt with the latter, and focused on small antenna technology.

I made a passing reference to white space approaches, which leverage the spectrum between television channels for wireless applications and services. It is only fair to take a bit of a deeper look at several new items connected to white space.

It is important to recognize several unique things about white space.

The first is that, like real estate, to which it is often compared, there is good spectrum, mediocre spectrum and bad spectrum. The difference is in the characteristics: Does it demand line-of-sight (LOS) access? Does it permeate structures? Does it degrade quickly in bad weather conditions? White space is focused on the channels used by broadcast television and, for that reason, is akin to beachfront property in Malibu.


A second important fact is that white space is rolling out internationally. A great deal of the activity is in areas that don’t usually make telecommunications headlines. Just last month, CNN reported on a Microsoft trial in Limpopo, South Africa, and Human IPO reported on one proposed for the University of Malawi.

The reason that such remote locales become prominent is the same as the reason trials and tests in the U.S. are rural. Sparsely populated areas have fewer active television stations. Thus, white space will have a disproportionate impact if deployed and offer more fruitful test environments.

Finally, it is important to note that the technology necessary for white space will be useful in other areas. Television stations go on and off the air. The number broadcasting is different from locale to locale. Thus, sophisticated techniques needed to be developed to enable operators to know whether they could use the white space in a given locale at a given point in time. That technology will be useful in many areas beyond white space.

That’s a lot of good stuff. In the United Kingdom, Ofcom last week announced a test of what a Total Telecom story characterizes as a “raft” of services using white space. BT, Google and Microsoft are among the participants. They will not be alone, according to the story:

In all, 18 companies appear on a list of participants published on Wednesday by telco regulator Ofcom. The trials themselves encompass a whole host of potential uses for white spaces spectrum.

The great potential of white space means that well-funded research and development will accelerate. An example of that is a joint project by Microsoft and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The details are complex, but the work focuses on the torturously acronym-ed White space Indoor Spectrum EnhanceR (WISER). Essentially, the work aims to make tracking of available spectrum more accurate.

The mix of names of participants in these tests and trials, including well-known multinationals and small firms, and the rapidity of the announcements suggest we should expect no dimming of enthusiasm for the future of white space technology.



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