From Broadband to M2M, White Space Has Great Potential

Carl Weinschenk

The great promise of white space technology has firmly moved from the regulatory and testing realms into the field. Two recent pieces of news show how flexible the technology is.

White space -- the use of spectrum formerly in the hands of broadcasters for wireless services -- sometimes is referred to as “Wi-Fi on steroids.” While technically inaccurate, the term paints a pretty good picture of what is possible.

In addition to the travails of the normal development cycle, the evolution of white space has been tricky for a couple of extra reasons. For one thing, wireless mics, which can use the same frequencies as white space, needed to be protected. A second challenge is that different amounts of white space spectrum are available in different areas and that availability shifts on an ongoing basis. Figuring out how to manage that was difficult, but the advances made to do so will be felt beyond white space itself.

This week, Ars Technica and other sites reported that, an ISP in California, said that it has deployed a white space service to provide broadband to more than 59,000 of its rural customers in the central and northeastern part of the state. While the RuralConnect service isn’t the first to use white space -- the Ars Technica story says they have been rolling out since January of last year -- it’s still news when a new service launches. could provide speeds as fast as 16 megabits per second (Mbps), the story says.

Wireless techniques such as white space understandably are ideal for rural areas and nations with less infrastructure. Late last month, The Register reported on a trial Google is running in South Africa. The story reports that the trial will focus on 10 schools in Cape Town. The nation is earlier in the process than the United States and, consequently, the story focuses on regulatory and technical issues that are in play.

Apparently, more is at stake in South Africa than impressing regulators. Caroline Gabriel of Rethink Wireless reported on April 4 that it will use version 1.0 of an emerging standard called Weightless.

Weightless was written by companies including ARM, Google and Neul, an English firm that was active in white space development. It is aimed at harnessing white space platforms for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. In other words, massive armies of sensors will be able to use Weightless to communicate over white space networks. Trident Systems offers more details on the connection between M2M and white space.

The tentative standard was agreed to at a plenary session of the Weightless Special Interest Group (SIG) and now will be voted on by the entire membership.

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