White Space Is Open for Business: Will This Deliver a Broadband Alternative?

Super WiFi Summit

White Space Is Open for Business: Will This Deliver a Broadband Alternative?

By Barlow Keener, Attorney  |  January 01, 2011

White space is now open for business. That means free spectrum, just like Wi-Fi’s 2.4gHz.  

After several years of furious FCC debate that included Dolly Parton and the National Association of Broadcasters going head to head with white space proponents like Google and Microsoft, the FCC has given the go ahead for white space. The next step is in the hands of the new white space equipment vendors and yet to be announced new white space wireless providers.

The FCC and the public have learned that making spectrum free and open creates lots of business and huge opportunities. In just 10 years, Wi-Fi went from almost being unknown to having more than 250 million Wi-Fi access devices. Wi-Fi devices and Wi-Fi service have become ubiquitous. Will the same happen with the new TV white space spectrum?  

Only the largest equipment vendors have been involved in the white space debate. These include Dell, Motorola and Samsung. The Wi-Fi equipment vendors have been sitting on the sidelines. The Wi-Fi access point vendors have the most experience with serving the market that can be addressed by white space. The Wi-Fi market includes millions of chips and products that spread from home products from such companies as Belkin, D-Link and Linksys. Enterprise and service provider solutions in this space come from companies such as Belair, Cisco (News - Alert), ECI Telecom, Motorola, Ruckus, Strix and Tropos. Along with these technologies come testing solutions, management systems, and a variety of related devices.

New white space service providers will be required to purchase the white space equipment.   Only a nationwide provider will create a large market for the equipment providers. Wall Street funded Clearwire (News - Alert) as a viable broadband competitor using WiMAX equipment. But does Wall Street have the appetite for another similar provider using white space? There are many reasons for the success of a white space provider. The first reason is that unlike WiMAX (News - Alert), which required licensed spectrum, white space spectrum is free and open for use.

Small WISPs also will be focused on new white space mobile devices and fixed radios. There are many white space problems for the WISPs to overcome, primarily the lack of cost-effective white space equipment and mobile devices for customers. Will WISPs build new networks using white spaces equipment when they are already using Wi-Fi, 900Mz, and 5.8Mhz equipment?   

White spaces also requires a database that will prevent inference. The new white space database concept could be a model for freeing up lots of other licensed spectrum in the future. Who will be the database provider? Can there be more than one provider similar to the method employed with DNS servers?

Finally there is the FCC. TV white space is a regulatory creation. The Sept. 23, 2010 spectrum order was not delivered without dispute, unlike 2.4gHz spectrum, which was meant for microwave ovens and cordless phones. What are the regulations for white space? Is the white space order final or will we see more changes?

The opening of TV white space has created some opportunities for a mixture of proprietary and several standards of technologies. The logical winner is not necessarily Wi-Fi but the most successful business model. Usually in a product space that is driven by the cost of units mass produced; however, service provider strategies may make the standard successful by the coverage achieved or interoperability achieved.

Here’s a listing of some of the sessions addressing these issues at the SuperWiFi Summit:

WISP's Experience Strength and Hope
Wednesday Feb. 2 9-10:15 a.m.

Bridging the gap between products and service have been the wireless Internet service providers, which have managed to deliver to customers in rural areas a variety of solutions including Wi-Fi. Are they looking at SuperWiFi as a new opportunity with new technology, or do they see the market value in delivering existing solutions with new spectrum? Will the use of Wi-Fi in this space provide better interconnection or minimize the role of a WISP?

SuperWiFi Product Plans

Wednesday, Feb. 2 11:05 a.m.-12:20 p.m.

It’s a new space for a lot of existing technologies, who is going to adapt and adopt TV white space to deliver extended range to the home or deliver something new and different than existing technologies? Is the opportunity for service provider products? A self-organizing peer-to-peer network? When should we expect products in the market?

Cognitive Radio – Taking Ethernet Radio to the Edge

Thursday, Feb. 3 10:40-11:55 a.m.

The world forever changed when the Aloha network matured in Ethernet. Through the years we have seen Ethernet be applied to local networks, metro networks, Wi-Fi and WiMAX, and now we are seeing a new phase where self-organizing devices can cross spectrum to provide the way to find a clear path and maintain communication. This represents a great change for a series of applications that previously were too hard to implement.

Report from the Trial

Thursday, Feb. 3 1-2:15 p.m.

Google and Spectrum (News - Alert) Bridge have been conducting a TV white space trial for more than a year. What are the lessons? What will Spectrum Bridge do with the lessons? Has the frequency mapping provided by Google been part of the trial? Will the experiment turn into a self-sustaining service?

From Wi-Fi to White Space: An Evolution or Not for Service Providers?

If white space is the new super Wi-Fi, will we see a municipal Wi-Fi evolution to white space?    Can providers of municipal Wi-Fi radios make simple changes to Wi-Fi radios like larger antennas? Equipment vendors like Motorola now focused on municipal Wi-Fi are moving to white space. What is the future of white space for these equipment vendors?  Muni Wi-Fi equipment vendors understand well the challenges of mesh radios, roaming, antenna selection, radio place, bandwidth insertion, weather issues, and capital requirements. How will this hard-earned know-how translate to the new white space fixed radio network? 

Smart Money in White Space

White space is now open for business. But will Wall Street fund new broadband national competitors similar to Clearwire that are looking to white space as a new business model? Will white space be the new municipal Wi-Fi, or will white space be used to compete with the cellcos on a nationwide basis? Without Wall Street's backing, white space will remain in the realm of small, disaggregated wireless providers. Service providers have taken a back seat with Wi-Fi, but Dell, Google, Microsoft, Motorola and Samsung are poised to support white space. Nationwide service providers will start appearing and will be knocking on Wall Street's doors.

White Space Mobile Devices: The New Smartphone

The FCC’s recent white space order solidified the rules for white space mobile devices. The FCC rules limit power on the devices just like they do on Wi-Fi devices. But how will these rules limit the ability of carriers to make white space into an alternative broadband provider? Will the size of the antenna – which is longer than that used in Wi-Fi – limit the ability of device makers and fixed radios from delivering true broadband?  

Companies participating should include:
Belair Networks (News - Alert)
Spectrum Bridge

Barlow Keener, attorney with Keener Law Group, writes the Law & Regulation column for TMCnet. To read more of Barlow's articles, please visit his columnist page..

Edited by Stefania Viscusi


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