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September 13, 2011

The Dark Cloud Over White Space

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines

Folks involved in the Super WiFi Summit event co-located with ITEXPO (News - Alert) this week in Austin are understandably fired up over Congressional efforts to repackage TV channels. That would result in significantly less available white space and fundamentally alter the economic model for equipment used in this spectrum.

Richard Shockey (News - Alert), who runs Shockey Consulting and is chairman of The SIP Forum, said it would be a “tragedy” if such legislation is passed.

As discussed in the March issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine, white space as it now stands represents the largest single expansion of spectrum since the changes to Part 15, which expanded the use of 2.4gHz unlicensed spectrum and led to the popularization of Wi-Fi. But it’s much bigger than that.

Billions of consumer electronics devices now occupy the 83.5mHz of spectrum in the 2.4gHz space. That’s the entire wireless ecosystem, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and just about anything else you can think of. The white space, meanwhile, currently represents 276mHz of spectrum – almost three times the spectrum available in the 2.4gHz band, Jesse Caulfield, president of Key Bridge Global LLC, told me earlier this year, and this is the largest block of spectrum available for unlicensed use under 1gHz, so it’s infinitely more usable than the 2.4gHz bands.

White space spectrum also has awesome propagation characteristics, including the ability to penetrate walls for better coverage.

“This is as good as it gets really,” Shockey told me earlier this year. “This very much reminds me of VoIP 12 years ago, because of its potential implications. No one took voice over IP very seriously 12 years ago, and look at where it is now.”

Advocates of white space spectrum, which is found between 50mHz and 698mHz, say technology used in these frequencies could go a long way toward helping expand broadband to all Americans, could be used to build corporate networks (Microsoft (News - Alert) has already used white space spectrum to build a pilot network at its headquarters campus in Redmond, Wash.), to help deliver in-home applications including smart grid, and by wireless and wireline service providers that want to create new or fill in existing broadband networks.

Considering its broad prospective applications, Shockey told me today, the prospects of activities related to white space to create jobs and contribute to the wealth of our nation and world are significant.

But the bright future expected for white space is at risk given various bills and discussions that have arisen in the past few months. Perhaps the most prevalent is known as S.911, which the Senate Commerce Committee passed in June, according to the CommLawBlog.

Other potential threats to white space, according to Stephen Coran, an attorney with Rini Coran, include a discussion draft from the House majority of the Energy and Commerce Committee, a draft from the House minority, and language in the debt ceiling bill and the jobs bill President Obama discussed in his recent speech.

The problem, Coran explained today, is that such legislation talks about packing TV channels closer together. That means less white space between those channels. And while these efforts aren’t active moves against white space, but rather aimed at making more spectrum available for incentive auctions that could provide the federal government with new funds, white space would nonetheless be “collateral damage,” he said.

How this all plays out is anyone’s guess at this point. There are powerful companies and organizations on both sides of these discussions. White space supporters include such big names as Dell, Microsoft and Google, the last of which sponsored the Super WiFi Summit. Meanwhile, CTIA (News - Alert) has been pushing for incentive auctions to make more spectrum available to its membership.

In a recent interview, Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at the CTIA, told me that his organization and the Consumer Electronics Association jointly presented a paper to the FCC in February that said reallocating and auctioning off 120mHz of what they call “underutilized broadband television spectrum” would produce more than $33 billion in net proceeds for the U.S. Treasury. This money, which the associations say represents a conservative estimate, could be used in part by the government to offset the deficit and fulfill the vision outlined in The National Broadband Plan, he said.

Brough Turner, founder and CTO at netBlazr Inc. (and a speaker at today’s Super WiFi Summit, recently wrote a piece for TMC’s (News - Alert) new publication Next Gen Mobility, which summaries the white space situation succinctly: “For decades, more innovation and more products have been based on the few available slivers of unlicensed spectrum than on any other bands, even mobile. So the prospect of license-exempt access to TV white spaces has been hailed as a big step for U.S. innovation. Unfortunately, Congress has peculiar budgeting rules. If the Congressional Budget Office estimates a future spectrum auction could bring $X and Congress mandates the sale of that spectrum within the next four years, then that possible future money can be spent today. It’s free money immediately. If the auctions don’t happen or don’t bring in what was estimated, that’s a hole in a future budget – not our problem. Thus spectrum policy is caught in a bind with little hope of meaningful reform.”

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2011, taking place Sept. 13-15, 2011, in Austin, Texas. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. To register, click here.




Edited by Tammy Wolf
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