A Red Letter Day for White Space

Carl Weinschenk

The FCC voted Thursday to allow white space-the spectrum between television stations-to be used for wireless communications. The moniker most often attached to the technology, "Wi-Fi on steroids," paints a vivid picture of what the new approach has the potential to offer.


Last week, I posted on white space, and mentioned some early trials. It seems that all the right vendors-try Dell, Google, Motorola and Microsoft for starters-are on board. If white space is all it's cracked up to be, anticipate generations of devices that use it, with early units appearing as soon as the first quarter of next year.


The other possibility is that white space is overhyped. Shocking as it sounds, this sort of things has happened in the past. The explanation for the all-star vendor lineup could simply be that the companies are taking the great old tag line of the New York State lottery-"You gotta be in it to win it"-to heart. Big vendors don't like surprises. Even if engineering and R & D departments think there is a relatively small chance that a technology will thrive, the big companies throw money into it, lest they end up behind the eight ball if the technology does, indeed, pan out.


The big players could be jumping on the white space bandwagon so they can exert their influence to ensure that it doesn't displace technologies in which they have made far greater investments. It is unlikely that such a nefarious plot is in the works. That doesn't mean, however, that it won't face its unique technical complications and the normal marketplace struggles against entrenched approaches.


The promise of white space is so great-high capacity and great range-it is unlikely that it will completely flop. By the same token, the unanimous vote by the FCC commissioners is merely the end of the first act. It will be interesting to see how aggressively vendors and service providers will perfect and roll it out.


Wireless proponents will be celebrating, though the prudent ones will be doing so a bit tentatively.

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