Get Ready to Hear A Lot More About White Space

Carl Weinschenk
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Transmitting using white space spectrum - nicknamed "super Wi-Fi" or "Wi-Fi on steroids" - is one of those technologies that has extravagant promise. Unlike many of the others, not too much of the bloom has come off the rose as it approaches wide implementation.

White space spectrum also is one of the most interesting developments during the past few years. It is comprised of the empty, or "white," spectrum that separates broadcast channels. Since this in the part of the spectrum that is used for broadcast television, it is very high quality. Signals can travel for long distances relative to the strength at which they are transmitted and they have the ability to permeate structures.

Another interesting element of white space is that it leads to a counter-intuitive distribution model. In general, urban areas get the best of telecommunications - the most broadcast channels, the strongest signals, the most competitors for phone and broadband, etc. Folks way out of town generally are way out of luck. In the case of white space, however, everything is reversed. There are more television channels in the cities, so there is less white space. For once, the people from out in the sticks win.

Finally, white space is the leading edge of technology that may be vital both within the sector and when it is applied elsewhere. White space availability will ebb and flow in a very fluid manner depending on what channels exist in a particular location and which actually are broadcasting at a given point in time. For this reason, the FCC has demanded that a unique and sophisticated infrastructure be created. This had led the service provider and vendor community - including companies such as Microsoft, Dell and Google - to create an elaborate database system in which the available spectrum at any given time and location can be determined in real time. It is clear that such a system can be utilized in other areas, such as to identify non-white space spectrum that is available for reuse. In short, the work done on white space will have a positive impact in other areas.

Here is a good FAQ on white space at All Things D. The category took some big steps recently. Government Technology reports that New Hanover County, N.C., became the first commercial rollout of the technology. Engadget reported in late December that Koos Technical Services was approved as the first receiver to use white space technology and Spectrum Bridge got the OK for running the database.

Look for white space to become an increasingly common topic of conversation during the next few months. Many of the companies involved are big names with large marketing muscle. Things to watch are whether Congress decides to raise some cash from auctioning off spectrum that white space proponents have had their eyes on and if the FCC relaxes antenna height rules that threaten to limit the technology's effectiveness.

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