Operator community butts heads with Google again

Operator community butts heads with Google again

The operator community once again finds itself butting heads with the likes of Google as CTIA has now weighed in on the fight over unlicensed white-space spectrum--that spectrum that sits between airwaves currently licensed to TV broadcasters. CTIA wants the spectrum licensed. Google and others want it unlicensed. (And of course the National Association of Broadcasters wants nothing in that spectrum because of interference concerns.)

Since the closing of the 700 MHz auction, after which Google revealed it never really intended to become an operator but only drive the price up to kick in open-access requirements, Google has stepped up its efforts to open up the white-space spectrum on an unlicensed basis. In a recent filing with the FCC, the search giant said opening up the spectrum on an unlicensed basis would "enable much-needed competition to the incumbent broadband service providers."

CTIA joins Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile against the notion that the spectrum should be unlicensed. The two operators made a filing with the FCC in January urging the commission to open up the spectrum on a licensed basis, saying white spaces could be used for much-needed backhaul services.

For sure, unlicensed white-space spectrum represents a threat to those operators that spent billions at the 700 MHz auction and will spend billions more to deploy their licensed broadband networks.

For Google, white-space spectrum may be the best chance the search giant has to fully realize its dream of an open access circumstance that will enable it to transfer its dominance in online advertising into the wireless broadband world. While the FCC mandated open access for the 700 MHz C block, Google only got part of what it wanted. The FCC stopped short of requiring wholesale access, which would push the whole notion of open access in the first place through competition.

Google had big hopes in 2005 and 2006 that muni-WiFi was going to be the wireless broadband opportunity it was looking for. Pundits had speculated that Google was poised to blanket the U.S. with free WiFi in order to become one of the globe's largest Internet providers and one of the powerful ad sellers. That strategy didn't pan out as the muni-WiFi market hit a shakeout.

Fortunately for Google, the FCC has publicly favored the idea of unlicensed white-space spectrum. It appears the issue comes down to whether the devices will interfere with TV signals. The commission has been testing prototypes from Motorola, Philips, Google and Microsoft.

Of course, now there are some powerful lobbying forces at work against that plan, the broadcast and mobile-phone industries. But we also know how much a thorn Google can be.

The fight could get down-right dirty. -Lynnette