Google co-founder Larry Page yesterday said 16,000 people have signed a Google-sponsored petition in support of using unlicensed white-space spectrum for broadband wireless. Page was speaking at an event sponsored by the Wireless Innovation Alliance in Washington, D.C., that attracted a wide range of attendees, including representatives from Microsoft and Motorola.
In August, the search giant launched a web site called, www.freetheairwaves.com, on which visitors could sign a petition urging the FCC to open up unused TV airwaves for super WiFi-like services Google calls WiFi 2.0. The intention of the site was to get the common person involved in the debate by featuring YouTube videos that explain white space.
White space is the unused slivers of spectrum in the 700 MHz band between spectrum used by broadcast TV stations. Google advocates using those slices of spectrum to bring broadband wireless access to rural areas of the United States.
Some U.S. wireless carriers oppose the use of white space in an unlicensed manner, with Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA arguing it should be licensed and used for backhaul. The National Association of Broadcasters also opposes the idea, and says unlicensed devices will produce too much interference, and that tests on equipment to determine whether or not there would be interference have failed.
The FCC has yet to declare specific regulations for white-space, and it is still unclear whether a decision will be announced before the November elections.
Page also repeatedly brought up the statistic that there currently are 1 billion devices worldwide using WiFi technology on a 2.4 GHz spectrum; and said he was "amazed we're in the state of the debate we are in," calling it a "no brainer" to increase the "tiny slice" of spectrum WiFi technology currently operates on. "Having a greater radius of signal that you can provide cheaply is a huge economic advantage to the U.S. and the world," he said.
Mark Berejka, senior director for technology policy and strategy at Microsoft, took aim at the U.S. wireless industry, and said its claims about white space should be probed more deeply. Like a politician would on the stump, he told a story about a small rural wireless ISP that could not use point-to-point microwave spectrum for backhaul for Internet traffic, and was being "extorted" by its competitor for backhaul support.
U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., appeared unannounced to deliver an impassioned plea to make white space available. "If we can go to the Moon, as they say, we can do white space," he said.
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