FCC opens up wireless 'white spaces;' Assessing winners, losers and wild-cards

FCC opens up wireless 'white spaces;' Assessing winners, losers and wild-cards

Summary: The Federal Communications Commission has opened up so-called wireless white spaces--unused spectrum between broadcast channels--in a move the agency hopes paves the way for 'Wi-Fi on Steroids'.In a statement following the FCC's 5-0 approval (Techmeme), Chairman Kevin Martin said:Opening the white spaces will allow for the creation of a Wi-Fi on steroids.

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The Federal Communications Commission has opened up so-called wireless white spaces--unused spectrum between broadcast channels--in a move the agency hopes paves the way for 'Wi-Fi on Steroids'.

In a statement following the FCC's 5-0 approval (Techmeme), Chairman Kevin Martin said:

Opening the white spaces will allow for the creation of a Wi-Fi on steroids. It has the potential to improve wireless broadband connectivity and inspire an ever-widening array of new Internet based products and services for consumers. Consumers across the country will have access to devices and services that they may have only dreamed about before. I fully expect that everything from enhanced home broadband networks, to intelligent peer-to-peer devices, and even small communications networks will come into being in TV “white spaces.”

Martin added that the FCC will ensure that this spectrum won't interfere with other broadcasts to allay critics, but it's a big win for technology firms such as Google, Intel and Motorola. Here's a look at the potential winners, losers and wild-cards:

Winners:

Intel: The chip giant is hands-down a big winner. Like Wi-Fi--and now WiMax--Intel will make chips with technology embedded to take advantage of this spectrum.

Google: Let me get this straight: Google prods the FCC to open up the airwaves. It enters bidding for 700 Mhz spectrum, jacks up the auction prices for carriers, doesn't actually bid and now gets handed spectrum that's arguably more valuable. Nice job, Google. Google's Larry Page said in a blog post:

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. And it is wonderful that the FCC has adopted the same successful unlicensed model used for Wi-Fi, which has resulted in a projected 1 billion Wi-Fi chips being produced this year. Now that the FCC has set the rules, I'm sure that we'll see similar growth in products to take advantage of this spectrum.

All of that's true and guess what search and services will ride on top of this spectrum? Yup. Google's. Another thread is that Google will run to these white spaces to create a third broadband pipe to the home.

Motorola and Cisco: Martin spoke of "enhanced home broadband networks" that can flourish with this opened spectrum. The big players--from the set-top box to the wireless routers--are Motorola and Cisco.

Consumers: This new spectrum is likely to result in a bevy of services--and devices--to use. More importantly, opening this spectrum is going to bring us closer to always-on wireless broadband access.

Losers:

Verizon and AT&T: The likes of Verizon and AT&T have been paying billions for spectrum and now these white spaces create more competition. In other words, the moat around the wireless carrier business model isn't as strong as it was. The monolithic carriers will face competition from upstarts using white space spectrum as well as smaller rivals such as T-Mobile and Sprint.

WiMax, Sprint-Clearwire: The Sprint-Clearwire WiMax joint venture also was approved by the FCC on Tuesday, but there's a nagging issue: I thought WiMax was "Wi-Fi on steroids." There are multiple details to be worked out, but I wonder if WiMax will ultimately be just a bridge technology.

The FCC coffers: The FCC has garnered billions in wireless auctions and while advocates of white space spectrum have noted that it won't interfere with licensee rights you have to ponder about the impact on future auctions. Will carriers pay up for in the future?

Wild-Cards:

Business models and carrier response. In an interesting note, Stanford Group analysts Paul Gallant and Paul Glenchur wrote:

There is a fair amount of noise around the FCC vote on “white spaces,” but for now, there appears to be little to worry about for existing broadband providers (cable/telcos). The reason is that there is no clear business model for this spectrum to create additional competition in the broadband market. It’s even possible that existing broadband providers (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable) could decide to follow Cablevision’s lead and co-opt these “white spaces” frequencies to provide a new mobile broadband option throughout their footprints.

The business model point is notable, but for the hardware vendors that will enable white space spectrum there will be new product cycles. Services providers will also rely on advertising. Stanford's second point is also interesting. Broadband providers--especially cable companies and wireless firms with weaker coverage (like T-Mobile)--can also benefit.

Topics: Broadband, Google, Government, Government US, Networking, Telcos, Wi-Fi

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16 comments
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  • Co-opting

    If the new frequencies are open to any company and if some companies are threatened by competition using the new frequencies, then why shouldn't the threatened companies jam the new frequencies?

    That seems one of the points of this quoted quote:

    The reason is that there is no clear business model for this spectrum to create additional competition in the broadband market. It?s even possible that existing broadband providers (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable) could decide to follow Cablevision?s lead and co-opt these ?white spaces? frequencies to provide a new mobile broadband option throughout their footprints.

    [End quote]

    The usefulness of these frequencies in depriving cable/telco of revenue is probably geographically limited. Why shouldn't they occupy the frequencies continuously and use them sporadically where appropriate?

    And even that may not be necessary if no competitor with resources can see a way to make money.

    So this may change nothing.
    Anton Philidor
  • CB, WiFi, FRS, VOIP, etc, etc,

    None of these have had an adverse effect on ANY business model. So far this is a "toy" short range technology like radio controlled model cars and planes that haven't really affected the transportation industry. To say that there will be losers is like me trying to use not winning the lottery as a tax deduction loss.

    Even the FCC cannot aution off spectrum already in use by the TV broadcast industry.
    kd5auq
  • RE: FCC opens up wireless 'white spaces;' Assessing winners, losers and wild-cards

    I find it interesting that you did not list TV Broadcasters as losers in this decision. They paid for the licenses for these frequencies and the technology to prevent interference is questionable at best.
    mhm200
    • Channel Choice is coming?

      Hopefully,
      Obama will MAKE Cable TV give us
      Channel Choice
      where we ONLY Pay for the channels we WANT.

      LVKen7@Gmail.com
      LVKen7
      • What makes you think he'd do that?

        He'll probably just guarantee everyone has government provided cable.
        derbaff
    • How can they be "losers"?

      ...they got their Digital Bandwidth in trade, they lose nothing...in fact they may win if it means opening up cheaper mobile reception of their broadcasts over handheld devices.
      ReadWryt (error)
    • Broadcast licenses

      While the licenses of established broadcast stations have a significant market value, the last I looked the fees the broadcasters paid to the FCC were nominal: The [b]highest[/b] fee, the fee for top ten market VHF TV stations is all of $71,050, and MUCH less for UHF and for smaller markets. (Bottoming out at $1,800 for UHF stations outside of the top 100 markets.) They primarily "pay" for their bandwidth by providing a public service.

      I expect the FCC fees of even a top-ten market TV station are paid for by just a few minutes of advertising.
      CodeCurmudgeon
  • RE: FCC opens up wireless 'white spaces;' Assessing winners, losers and wild-cards

    This is just what I wanted to hear. The more competition we have now with a newly opened spectrum and maybe a newer vehicle to connect us to the cloud the better. I would hate to see the present day telcos and cable providers get their way and gut out net neutrality.
    Unemployed IT Guy
  • RE: FCC opens up wireless 'white spaces;' Assessing winners, losers and wild-cards

    Amateur radio has gone digital, voice and data
    for some years now. It's open a new
    challenge ,E-mail, emcomm support and links
    to the internet.
    verno_58
    • Pro-Audio will be a loser

      As of yet there are no cost effective high quality digital wireless microphones. All of the existing analog wireless systems operate in the 'white spaces'. This means that theaters (live stages), aerobics instructors, churchs, musicians, schools, concert venues, conference rooms, any TV or radio remote broadcast (think sports events) where you do not see the reporter dragging a microphone cable, the list is very long. Will not be able to depend on their equipment not being "stepped on" when they try to use it, because someone in the audience, next door, or down the street wants to make a phone call, check their email or visit the world wide web.
      jessejtr
  • So I ask you...

    ...if in four years I can purchase an Android based PDA which is "White-Fi" enabled, and said device can run my Skype or Vonage software thus unifying my mobile and home phone number, why ever would I want to wander around a parking lot trying to get a sufficient number of "bars" to converse over Sprint, Verizon or ATT?
    ReadWryt (error)
  • wimax

    Forget about "wimax is wifi on steroids". The two technologies are quite different and they don't really compete with each other. Wimax might be a bridge technology, but I don't think it is caused by wi-fi.
    chengg11
  • Intereference?

    I'm a bit worried - there's a reason why those "white spaces" are in there, and it's called interference. Not the business kind, the electromagnetic kind. As much as we like to pretend that we can somehow avoid the interference issues, the truth is that we've been doing a terrible job at it. I've been using enough wireless products to know better than to believe any claims that using the "white spaces" between channels is not going to interfere with the channels themselves.
    CobraA1
  • You can now interfere with your neighbor

    Opening up this spectrum to consumer devices is a waste. There are already nearly 550 MHz of good unlicensed spectrum available for consumer devices. No more is needed! What's more, the white space spectrum penetrates walls, which means that everyone in the neighborhood will interfere with one another. It's going to wind up being a "junk band," like CB, when it could have been designated for something useful -- like the delivery of wireless broadband.
    BrettGlass
    • Guess again

      First, it is needed, present Wi-Fi is too slow, this newly opened spectrum will increase speed for Wi-Fi. The lack of broadband outside inner cities is a major economic drawback to our economy's growth.

      The mandate for the FCC's operation is to control interference from the various frequencies. So any interference will have to be dealt with, not ignored. This will also increase interest in having new equipment to continuously reduce unused space between spectrum's.

      Thankfully this will mean more and more new spectrum's becoming available as the quality of equipment increases. Which is exactly what is needed for continuous need for more spectrum.
      shanedr
  • White Space Tech not just for Internet Broadband

    http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Voyant-International-Corporation-917727.html

    These guys are already manufacturing commercial-grade white space radio device not just for broadband, but also innovative uses such as long-range radio control of devices and data transmissions.

    Think smart traffic signals that's solar-powered with LED signal lights, with software-defined signal processing, video streaming of traffic conditions, image/on-ground traffic sensors, automated with central control and central data processing. ALL WIRELESS and GREEN!
    OracleDivine