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Wireless experts say the signal is clear for whitespace

06 October 2010

Cambridge Consultants, which boasts the single largest independent wireless team in the world, has highlighted three applications ripe for innovation and market growth due to the newly freed whitespace spectrum: rural broadband provisioning; municipal wireless networks; and in-home media distribution.

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently released the final rules for whitespace radio devices, freeing up unlicensed bands to the public. Those highly desirable super Wi-Fi whitespace connections can travel through walls and transmit at a distance ten times today’s Wi-Fi signals.  Experts suggest the rest of the world will not be far behind in legalising unlicensed use of those unused TV channels freed up by the digital switchover, creating the potential for a $100bn market.

“The last time a significant allocation of spectrum was released was in 1985 when the 2.4GHz band was written off as ‘junk spectrum’ due to its relatively poor range and wall penetration abilities,” said Luke D’Arcy, head of cognitive radio at Cambridge Consultants.  “But this action led directly to Bluetooth(tm) and WiFi technology, both now at the heart of multi billion dollar businesses.  Similarly, the FCC decision is significant because it levels the playing field by making high quality spectrum available to all, and free of charge when it had previously cost billions, which will rapidly accelerate innovation in ways we can’t imagine today.  That being said, it took more than ten years for volume production technology to be developed to take advantage of the 2.4GHz band.  But our experience and IP tells us that this does not have to be the case for whitespace radio.”

The three key growth areas identified by Cambridge Consultants include:
1) Rural Broadband Provisioning
There are around 3000 wireless internet service providers in the US, mostly serving rural communities.  By upgrading to whitespace radio these providers will be able to extend the range of their access points at least 300 percent, and remove the need for a line of sight between subscriber premises and the access point.  The overall result will be to greatly reduce the number of access points need to cover a particular community, reducing the cost of installing a network by up to 75 percent.  Spectrum Bridge already has a rural network set up in Claudville, VA, a small rural community lacking broadband connectivity.

2) Municipal Wireless Networks
In the utopian days after WiFi first emerged many cities planned city-wide free or very low cost wireless networks.  Unfortunately few of these have been successful, because the relatively short range of standard WiFi means that a huge number of access points are required to provide reasonable coverage, and the number of access points is the main contributor to the costs for the network operator.  Municipal whitespace networks will be able to deliver good coverage with a huge reduction of the number of basestations, potentially making municipal networks profitable.  Microsoft already has a network like this set up on its campus in Redmond, WA.  Dell and others have said that they will include such technology in their products.

3) In-home media distribution
There is increasing demand from consumers for a reliable way to stream personalized video to TVs throughout the home.  Existing WiFi networks struggle to provide the high bandwidth and quality of service needed to support video streaming, particularly for high-definition video.  The ability of whitespace radio to penetrate walls makes it an interesting technology for video distribution around the home. 

Earlier this year, Cambridge Consultants issued a report, which looked at how the highly desirable TV band could fundamentally change today’s wireless provider model while spotlighting technology hurdles that will limit immediate disruption.  As well, the InCognito(tm) whitespace radio developed my Cambridge Consultants can allow any radio product to transmit without interference over the whitespace frequencies.

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