A View from Stephen Cass

White Spaces Finally Open for Business

After years of trials, the FCC grants approval for super Wi-Fi hardware.

  • January 6, 2012

One of the touted benefits of shutting down analog TV broadcasts in favor of digital broadcasts (which occurred in the United States in 2009) was that large portions of radio spectrum would be freed up for other uses. In particular, these so called white spaces on the spectrum chart were intended to be used for broadband data connections, ushering in a new era of “super Wi-Fi” services, the first of which will finally come to market later this month.

Just before Christmas, the FCC announced that it had approved the Agility White Space Radio system from Koos Technical Services, which is targeted towards broadband service providers or industrial customers. Capable of handling IP-based traffic at data rates that range from 1.5 to 3.1 megabytes per second, the new radio is limited to fixed-point installations and has approval for operation only in Wilmington, North Carolina, but nationwide expansion is expected.

The reason for the limited area of operation, and relatively slow roll-out of white spaces devices in general, is because, unlike with Wi-Fi, where an operating band at 2.4 GHz was universally available to all devices, the exact frequencies available to white space devices varies depending on location. This is because the frequencies allocated to the original analog television broadcasts were varied regionally, in order to minimize interference between geographically neighboring TV stations. Consequently, white space devices must consult a database system that tells them what frequencies they can use in a given location. The first such database was also approved in tandem with the Koos radio, operated by Spectrum Bridge.

Spectrum Bridge was a key player in early trials of white spaces networks, and with the FCC approval can now begin charging for access to its database. Use of the database should allow many other communications equipment manufacturers to gain FCC approval, and finally bring about the long-promised explosion in white spaces services and products.

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