By Jennifer LeClaire / CIO Today. Updated March 25, 2008.
Google may not have walked away with assets in the latest U.S. wireless-spectrum auction, but the Internet giant is moving to get in on the action. Google has revived its pitch to use TV "white space" -- vacant TV airwaves -- to offer Internet service.
In a letter, Google asked the Federal Communications Commission to open up the white space for unlicensed use. The Internet giant hopes to foster widespread, affordable Internet access over the TV airwaves.
"As Google has pointed out previously, the vast majority of viable spectrum in this country simply goes unused, or else is grossly underutilized," wrote Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media lawyer. "Unlike other natural resources, there is no benefit to allowing this spectrum to lie fallow."
A Black and White (Space) Pitch
From Google's perspective, the space between channels 2 and 51 on TV sets not connected to cable or satellite services -- known as white space -- offers a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide ubiquitous wireless broadband access to all Americans." And, Whitt wrote, opening the unused airwaves would "enable much-needed competition to the incumbent broadband service providers."
Google is not pushing alone. The White Spaces Coalition, an industry consortium that includes Google, Dell, HP, Intel, Philips, Earthlink, Samsung and Microsoft, is pushing to use the analog frequencies with a promise to deliver speeds up to 100 Mbps at lower costs than current market options.
Most FCC commissioners have said they would support the use of white space as long as the technologies that run over the spectrum do not interfere with TV broadcast signals.
Broadcasters Unite in Opposition
However, television broadcasters, sports leagues, wireless microphone manufacturers, and others have long asserted that devices operating over unused TV channels either interfere with TV signals or fail to detect those signals in order to avoid creating interference.
"The bottom line here is that in our view portable, unlicensed devices simply cannot operate in the digital television band without causing interference. There has been a number of tests that the FCC performed that bear us out," said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president for the National Association of Broadcasters.
The NAB fears that if unlicensed devices are introduced by the millions in urban areas, TV sets would just stop working. The NAB is still monitoring the FCC's tests of the devices, but Wharton said its clear that the digital-television transition will be threatened if the FCC moves forward with the white-space proposal.
"The real scam here is that Google is trying to get a free ride from the government for spectrum that's worth tens of millions if not billions of dollars," Wharton said.
Whitt said consumer devices compatible with the white-space spectrum could become reality as early as late 2009. Google also suggested overlapping technologies, including "spectrum sensing," which aims to prevent signal interference.