White Space Movement Another Good Sign for Rural Connectivity

Carl Weinschenk

Bringing broadband to rural areas is one of the goals of the broadband element of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, which is the official name of the economic stimulus package.

While the stimulus grant process limps along, a parallel technical development announced by Microsoft is another bit of good news for folks in the hinterlands. The company, according the MIT Technology Review, said that it has found a way to use "white space" spectrum formerly reserved for broadcasters to provide wireless coverage. Google, Dell, HP, Intel and Philips also had permission from the Federal Communications Commission to create prototypes, according to a report on the news at GigaOm.


The idea is that the new systems would have much greater range than Wi-Fi, which it resembles in other ways, the story says. The piece goes into good detail about the challenges Microsoft -- whose approach is nicely nicknamed "White Fi" -- and the others are seeking to overcome. The problems focus on ensuring that the wireless networks don't interfere with existing entities, such as broadcasters and wireless microphones, that use the spectrum.

Regulatory maneuvers take a long time. The use of white space for telecommunications has been in the planning phases for years. The sheer amount of spectrum that could be harnessed in this way makes this a potentially disruptive technology. The site showmywhitespace.com has a neat application that shows what spectrum is available at any address or latitude and longitude typed in. The bottom line is that some areas have a significant number of channels with which entrepreneurs can work.


The presence of the A-list of companies in the FCC proceeding shows that the industry is taking note of white space. This also is room for the lower profile firms, such as xG Technology. This release says that the company offers a phone system that uses unlicensed spectrum and specifically mentions white space.


Rural communications will get a boost from the stimulus package and is likely to get another from white space. Whether they actually work in tandem -- i.e., use of stimulus money to push white space technology -- is unclear. What seems certain, however, is that people finally are paying attention to these under-served areas.

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