Mobile Sands

November 20, 2010

Applications for white space spectrum?

Filed under: LTE, Metro Wi-Fi, New business models, white space, Wi-Fi — AJ @ 5:14 pm

The search for what to do with white space spectrum is on.

Cambridge Consultants, a radio consulting company in UK, identified three promising applications: in-home video distribution, municipal wireless, and rural broadband. Scores of companies have tried to address these three markets but with limited commercial success. There are solutions for in-home video distribution using Wireless HD, WHDI, 802.11n and UWB –  and many of them commercially available. Several companies build outdoor WiFi gear for municipal deployments. Broadband can be provided in rural areas with a wide range of mature wireless technologies (EVDO, UMTS, LTE, WiMAX etc.) running in both licensed and unlicensed bands. Licensed spectrum is dirt cheap in rural areas. All this raises the question – is there enough demand for these applications and is  new technology needed to address them?

According to Ruckus, a company that builds WiFi gear with beam forming antennas, “white space will be ideal for creating “urban overlays” to higher-speed microcell Wi-Fi and macrocell LTE networks… perfect for offloading low bit rate “chatter” traffic, such as application notifications (email, presence lists, etc. generated by handheld wireless devices) from high speed cellular or Wi-Fi networks”. Though an interesting application, it is doubtful that carriers will add a new radio into their handsets to offload low bit rate chatter. The incremental cost of adding WiFi to a handset had to fall below $10 before carriers starting making it a standard feature in their smartphone lineups.

Brough Turner, founder of a a 802.11n based ISP called netBlazr and former CTO/founder of NMS communications, points out that white space spectrum being “beachfront” spectrum is based on 20th century technology, not physics. Brough, in other blog posts and presentations at industry forums, has argued that large amounts of spectrum at higher frequencies is significantly more valuable for offering broadband and connectivity than few 6 MHz channels in lower frequency bands.

Of course, those who have commercially viable ideas on what to do in this spectrum are not advertising them on the Internet.  I was recently reading the history of ISM bands on the website of Michael Marcus and at George Mason’s Internet Economy Project. It is notable that both WiFi and Bluetooth, poster child applications for ISM bands took off more than 15 years after this spectrum was opened up for unlicensed use. Spread spectrum, the technology that folks at FCC believed would be deployed in ISM bands was replaced by OFDM. None of the companies that were pioneers in the ISM band are in business today.  Plus, not all unlicensed spectrum creates billion dollar markets. Unlicensed PCS (UPCS), a 20 MHz band what was offered for unlicensed use in 1995, has no application to date. Still, in these relatively early days, it is better for all us to stay optimistic about the possibilities and keep our thinking hats on!


1 Comment »

  1. It’s certainly important to think about the applications. On the other hand, the thing that interests me about the white spaces is how, exactly, technologies will go about using them. I think that the hurdles to spectrum access play a big role in determining the success or failure of certain spectrum bands. UPCS is a pretty good example. An imposed etiquette, relocation requirements, and coordination probably all played a role in the fate of UPCS as you described.

    I think that the white space idea takes us in the right direction, but it’s going to bog down with databases and coordinators. What we really need is a way of moving available spectrum into the hands of someone who wants to use it very quickly, and for just the time that it is needed. A bandwidth exchange for wireless spectrum. There are companies out there, like Shared Spectrum (SSC) that, I think, are looking in this direction, but I’m not exactly sure. All I’m sure of is that putting a human spectrum coordinator in the middle of the transaction is not going to be fast enough to enable a rapidly evolving industry to grow around the white space spectrum.

    Oh, and I have to take issue with the comment that “white space spectrum being “beachfront” spectrum is based on 20th century technology, not physics.” I don’t deny that, over time, advances in technology have made it possible to make use of spectrum at higher frequencies. However, physics is still physics. Antenna sizes, propagation, water absorption, foliage blocking, absorption by the human body, building penetration — these are all things that are based on physics. New technologies and new architectures can find ways around problems that might exist at certain frequencies, but the behavior of RF signals at 700 MHz is still physics. No matter what century it is.

    Comment by Leigh Chinitz — November 23, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

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