Are White Spaces The Mobile Internet's White Knight? - InformationWeek

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Commentary
8/18/2008
04:19 PM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
Commentary
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Are White Spaces The Mobile Internet's White Knight?

If you believe Google, white spaces represent the last hope for the future of the mobile Internet. I don't think the issue is as clear-cut as Google would have us believe. As the FCC nears a vote on the issue, Google and other heavy hitters are weighing in.

If you believe Google, white spaces represent the last hope for the future of the mobile Internet. I don't think the issue is as clear-cut as Google would have us believe. As the FCC nears a vote on the issue, Google and other heavy hitters are weighing in.White spaces are the unused slices of spectrum that reside between broadcast television channels. These spaces aren't large by any stretch of the imagination, but they are large enough that they can be used for mobile Internet and other wireless services.

Television broadcasters have petitioned against their use, claiming that there will be interference with their broadcasts. Many companies, including the likes of Microsoft, T-Mobile, and others, have been conducting tests along with the FCC to determine just how real the perceived threat of interference is. To date, no hard, specific proof has really concluded the matter one way or the other.

T-Mobile has been very vocal in its opposition to the use of white spaces, as it fears that its cellular services will be interfered with, especially its 1,700-MHz AWS spectrum.

Opening up this white space spectrum for unlicensed use could have many positive effects, and that is Google's stance. It believes in white spaces so much that today it launched a new Web site specifically to provide a rallying point around the issue.

According to Google, "At its core, Free The Airwaves is a call to action for everyday users. You don't need to be a telecommunications expert to understand that freeing the 'white spaces' has the potential to transform wireless Internet as we know it. When you visit the site, you'll be invited to film a video response explaining what increased Internet access could mean for you, to sign a petition to the FCC, to contact your elected officials, to spread the word, and more.

When it comes to opening these airwaves, we believe the public interest is clear. But we also want to be transparent about our involvement: Google has a clear business interest in expanding access to the Web. There's no doubt that if these airwaves are opened up to unlicensed use, more people will be using the Internet. That's certainly good for Google (not to mention many of our industry peers) but we also think that it's good for consumers."

The idea of easier access to less costly -- or free -- Internet sounds great. It also sounds like something the companies that have spent billions erecting wireless Internet networks will be unhappy about.

We only have to look as far as Verizon Wireless's fight against Philadelphia's free muni-Wi-Fi network. It argued that offering a free service that competed with its own 3G network was unfair.

Every other major network operator can make the same argument with respect to white spaces.

The FCC will be voting on the issue in the next month or two. The FCC is already seeing pressure from pols who believe in the idea. What will FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Co. decide?

Whichever way they go, it will have a profound effect on how we access the Internet from mobile devices.

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