Google's quest for white space

Caroline Gabriel/Rethink Research
23 Apr 2008
00:00

The results of the recent US 700 MHz auction were far from fulfilling Google's dreams of an open wireless network that would significantly boost unfettered internet usage across the airwaves, and so its own revenues. The search and advertising leader is not giving up on its quest for spectrum to support the expansion of its business model into wireless, however, and while it has been largely disappointed in 700 MHz (though its lobbying will have done something to shift carrier behavior) and in mesh Wi-Fi, it now has its eyes on a new option, the unused "Ëœwhite spaces' in the TV spectrum.

In the aftermath of the 700 MHz auction, Google renewed its efforts to have this unused bandwidth made available for license-exempt broadband wireless- efforts that have so far been frustrated by opposition from the broadcast lobbies and disappointing results from tests of prototype devices (the latest in a series of Microsoft attempts failed earlier this month).

The usual internet suspects are supporting the move to open up the white spaces. Microsoft, Philips and Motorola have been prime movers and have submitted prototype devices to the FCC for testing - the main objective being to prove that an unlicensed product can guarantee not to interfere with TV broadcasts. The White Spaces Coalition is a group of technology companies - also including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Earthlink and Samsung - that is campaigning on this front.

However, two Microsoft attempts have failed and so far the FCC has not approved any device. It is also considering an alternative proposal, led by Sprint Nextel and other cellcos, to allocate the spectrum for mobile backhaul.

Google is trying to regain the momentum in this debate and last week wrote a letter to the FCC reiterating its case that opening the white spaces would promote more universal and affordable internet services and help bridge the US' gaping broadband divide.

'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, in the letter, calling the white spaces a "once in a lifetime opportunity to provide ubiquitous wireless broadband access to all Americans", as well as enabling "much needed competition to the incumbent broadband service providers".

While Google is happy to work with mainstream operators to push its applications on to more handsets, it is also keen to expand the market dramatically by supporting new service providers with innovative business models. This was the aim of the failed plan to acquire a national 700 MHz license, which would then have been used to wholesale capacity to smaller providers. But Google seems to have realized that boosting the viability of small and disruptive operators is more practical in unlicensed bands, because of the carriers' ability to buy up and manage licensed spectrum under the current auction system.

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