Another Approach to the Spectrum Crunch

There are two ways that technologists deal with challenges. One is to invent new systems and structures and the other is to improve what already exists. Of course, the smartest approach is to do a little bit of each.

The powering issue is a perfect example. As new features and functions are added to smartphones, a big fear is that battery time would be reduced to an unacceptable level. This scared the industry, which responded in three ways: It is working on new energy sources (such as fuel cells and more esoteric approaches) and it is working on ways to improve the standard lithium-ion battery technology, and it is making devices use the power that is on board more efficiently.

Another area that keeps executives up at night is spectrum. The fear, as it is with power, is that a dead end will be reached if current trend lines continue. And, like the power people, the industry is approaching it in more than one way. The details are different, of course. However, the basic outlines are the same: The industry is looking to increase both supply and efficiency.

The New York Times has an interesting piece that looks at least one corner of the overall efficiency effort. The story focuses mostly on the company xG. What it and others are doing is attempting to free up spectrum that is not in use in real time using "cognitive radio." It's a good name because it aptly describes what is happening.


The story doesn't mention that the driver of cognitive radio is the white space initiative. The FCC is freeing up spectrum formerly used by broadcast television channels for unlicensed use. However, there still are broadcasters and others using some of the spectrum, so what is available will differ depending on locale and even time of day.


In order for the segment to get off the ground, the players needed to find a way to provide spectrum use information in real time. The answer is radios - cognitive radios - that communicate with database system administrators to find out whether the devices into which they are embedded can use spectrum or not. Microsoft and SpectrumBridge - which announced a deal with Neul for worldwide use of white space in conjunction with machine-to-machine communications - are among 10 database administrators nationwide.

The other piece of the puzzle is more bandwidth. The Times story mentions the familiar dynamic of calls from carriers to open more spectrum. The comments from the cognitive radio folks is that even if the government acquiesces, the amount of spectrum added would fall woefully shorter of the gathering needs.

The bottom line is white space technology and the cognitive radio technology that was perfected as a means of making it viable have tremendous potential to address the issues that are most often discussed in terms of new spectrum allocated by the government. It's good news that such seemingly potent approaches exist.

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