TV white space offers a blank slate for innovation

editor's corner

A lot is happening in TV white space. As I was writing this column, members of the Cambridge TV White Spaces Consortium declared their 10 months of white-space testing in urban and rural areas in and around Cambridge, England as a success. They now recommend that U.K. regulator Ofcom complete regulations to allow for the use of white space. And Neul, which was part of the trial, announced that it is moving the Cambridge network to a pre-commercial phase on the way to a full commercial launch in 2013.

As with all nascent technologies and new uses for spectrum, however, the white-space arena is dealing with standards issues. Neul is pushing Weightless, a technology said to be in development much as Bluetooth was, with the Weightless Special Interest Group (SIG) on track to publish a full specification in early 2013. Neul says the Weightless standard will enable delivery of low-cost chipsets for M2M and consumer electronics.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) published the 802.22 standard for Wireless Regional Area Networks (WRANs) in July 2011, but that standard's impact has not yet been felt in the marketplace, and it may not have any real influence in the market for quite some time, even though compatible products could start arriving late this year.

In the United States, the FCC divides TV Band Devices into two categories: fixed, high-power and low-power, modes one and two. I've been told that the low-power versions, which could replace home Wi-Fi routers, among other applications, are the most likely to benefit from the interoperability offered by using standardized, consumer-grade equipment. However, the high-power category really does not need standardized equipment, at least not until wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) or other buyers start specifying compatibility with a standard in their requests for proposals.

Standards aside, TV white-space spectrum is already turning into a proving ground for innovative spectrum management techniques that hold considerable promise for other frequency bands. It's quite feasible that the looming spectrum crunch might be alleviated through the use of cognitive radio techniques, including spectrum sensing, spectrum management and geo-location, along with spectrum databases that identify which channels should be available at a given location--all of which are being proved out in TV white space.

For more perspectives on what the future holds for the technologies enabling white-space use, check out this special feature.--Tammy