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White Space and how it hopes to solve mobile data explosion

July 21, 2012
By Loh Ving Sung GooglePlus

Part 1 White Space: What is it?

21 July 2012 - A data tsunami, that is what experts are calling our constant and ever increasing need for data connectivity.  And with the explosion of devices that require bandwidth from smartphones and tablets to gaming consoles and netbooks, it seems like the finite bandwidth spectrum available to us is going to fully consumed.

In view of such a problem, countries like the United Kingdom and the United States have been looking at unused radio airwaves that exist naturally between two radio bands to carry data and provide wireless broadband Internet access.

The U.S' Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled since late 2008 that unused wireless American TV spectrum be open for free and unlicensed use. In the UK, regulator Ofcom also approved of the development of White Space in September of last year.

Tech companies including Google and Microsoft, have long lobbied that the FCC allow these White Spaces to be used for more powerful WiFi and wireless broadband. Google called the unused spectrum ‘WiFi on steroids’.

Using what analogue TV spectrum left behind

Compared with other forms of wireless technology, such as Bluetooth and WiFi, White Space receivers are being designed to use lower frequencies that have traditionally been reserved for TV. Unused wireless TV spectrum came from the U.S’ transition to DTV (Digital TV) which left analogue TV bandwidth - a substantial amount of it - unused.

TV White Spaces are frequencies that do not carry TV channels, pictures or sound. But it is capable of moving wireless and mobile data over longer distances using less energy, which means lower cost operators to maintain and deploy. This in turn will hopefully lower costs for consumers.

To illustrate, the Register in the UK reports that a White Space network can but build for as little as 50 million GBP. That is the same amount it costs to run O2’s GSM network for a week.

Super WiFi?

Image Credit: Spectrum Bridge

With that much bandwidth, White Space device is purported to have speeds that goes as fast as current 3G/4G services, estimated to range between 10Mbps and 40Mpbs. Additionally, TV signals are able to pass through walls and other material WiFi has trouble cutting through.           

Other proposed application of White Space is called Machine to Machine (M2M) communications, which allows information to be exchanged between devices. The bandwidth available on White Space could open up a range of devices to wirelessly transmit data between devices, which could put increased strain current GSM networks.

Current examples of M2M are how a power company could wirelessly monitor utility meters in consumers’ homes. Also, car maker Ford, which has teamed with AT&T to wirelessly connect Ford Focus Electric car to an app which allow owners to the vehicle charge settings, plan journeys, locate charging stations and pre-heat or cool the car. With White Space, the development of M2M applications could be expanded greatly.   

Small towns and rural areas are also able to take advantage of White Space spectrum. The cost for operators is more manageable for a smaller population, thanks to the reach of TV signals. So theoretically, operators will require fewer transmitters for the same data speeds. 

Ofcom reports that trials are currently being undertaken in Scotland's island of Bute.

Currently, both the UK and the US are planning to make white space unlicensed, which should eliminate the cost of buying up licensed spectrum for operators. There is also talk about how everyday users can become an Internet provider, especially since White Space is 'free'.

As for devices to use the spectrum, they are called white-spaces device (WSD). WSDs are purported to be able to detect the presence of existing and unused airwaves and use them for Internet connectivity.

With its reach, low cost and high speeds, White Space appears to be the cure-all for our finite spectrum problems. However, next week, we will discuss the challenge that White Space faces and look at current trials as well as a proposed nationwide cloud network that will blanket the U.S. based on White Space technology. 


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