IEEE Releases White Space Specification, but Challenges Remain

Carl Weinschenk

The promise of white space this week took a step closer to reality. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) released - or, in the organization's nomenclature, "published" - IEEE 802.22, the standard governing the technology.

White space is spectrum between broadcast VHF and UHF television channels. Its characteristics - the distance signals can travel and their ability to permeate structures - make it the beach-front property of the spectrum world. The goal of the Federal Communications Commission and similar bodies around the world is to create powerful unlicensed wireless networks ("Wi-Fi on steroids") atop the spectrum.

The IEEE press release says that each channel will offer 22 Megabits per second of data, which is proof of how promising the technology is. As intriguing as that is, the technology that allows use of this spectrum could be even more important. White space availability is different in different places. Thus, technology for determining in real time what can be used where and when must be developed. This technology can in turn be used more generally and constitutes a big tool for alleviating the bandwidth crutch. Says the IEEE:

IEEE 802.22 incorporates advanced cognitive radio capabilities including dynamic spectrum access, incumbent database access, accurate geolocation techniques, spectrum sensing, regulatory domain dependent policies, spectrum etiquette, and coexistence for optimal use of the available spectrum.

GigaOM looks forward and presents some potential uses of white space. There are a lot of them. The basic point is that companies such as Microsoft, Dell and Google have poured a lot of time and resources into white space. While it is true that big companies generally throw a lot of money at a lot of walls in the hope that some of it sticks, in this case there clearly is the expectation that white space potentially is a game changer.

The IEEE move is far from a done deal. Neul, which is quarterbacking a white space trial in Cambridge, UK and the Scotland island of Bute, objects for technical reasons. Also, white space still has to run the political and regulatory gauntlets. The IEEE move is, of course, good news for white space proponents. It is impossible to handicap with any certainty how much impact the technology ultimately will have.

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