Google and other tech companies won a big battle in Washington today. In an Election Day meeting, the FCC approved the unlicensed use of “white spaces” spectrum newly freed up as a result of TV broadcasters going from analog to digital broadcasts. Google has long been leading the lobbying effort to turn this spectrum into a sort of WiFi 2.0. Telecom companies and sports leagues opposed opening up the spectrum, claiming that it would interfere with wireless headsets and other devices that use nearby licensed airwaves.
Google argued that the interference argument was bunk, and the FCC agreed. Although the FCC is requiring more testing before “white spaces” devices will be approved. This is a big win not just for Google, but for the entire tech industry. Just as WiFi changed the way we connect to the Internet in our homes and offices, the “white spaces” spectrum could be used for longer-range wireless broadband connections.
I’ve always thought that there are a lot of really incredible things that engineers and entrepreneurs can do with this spectrum. We will soon have “Wi-Fi on steroids,” since these spectrum signals have much longer range than today’s Wi-Fi technology and broadband access can be spread using fewer base stations resulting in better coverage at lower cost.
CNet has more details. Making the white spaces available on an unlicensed basis should have real benefits for rural broadband connectivity and innovation generally according to this New America Foundation paper:
Unlicensed use of the DTV white space would increase broadband subscribership by 15 percent over ten years, particularly in rural and inner city areas which are currently under-serviced and which would benefit from mesh network technology facilitated by unlicensed spectrum.