When it comes to the white-space market, Google apparently wants to be the engine that drives it. Google expended a lot of lobbying muscle to push the white-space agenda along at the FCC. And the commission eventually, in late 2008, approved white-space spectrum — the unused slivers of spectrum in the TV broadcast band — for unlicensed broadband use. The vision is a Wi-Fi network on steroids.

Now Google is stepping up to the plate again to get this market moving along. (News surrounding white-space spectrum was nearly non-existent in 2009.) After indicating in the past that it had no intention of becoming a white-space database administrator, Google now has asked the FCC to name the company as one of the database administrators for white-space devices. Google is one of nine companies that have applied to the FCC to become a database administrator.

Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, announced the plan on the company's blog: "Why are we offering to do this? We continue to be big believers in the potential for this spectrum to revolutionize wireless broadband, and we think it's important for us to step forward and offer our assistance to make that vision a reality."

The database will be one of the trickier aspects of successfully using white-space spectrum. When the FCC approved the unlicensed use of TV white-space spectrum, it added some rigorous conditions under which the devices would have to operate to prevent interference with surrounding signals, namely wireless microphones and television broadcasts.

The FCC’s technical conditions require that both fixed and portable devices include geolocation and spectrum-sensing applications capable of integrating with an FCC database that comprises TV signals and the location of venues such as stadiums and concert arenas that use wireless microphones. These tactics, said the FCC, would prevent interference and ensure compliance with commission rules.

Geolocation technology maps the location of the device and compares it to the location of TV stations in an area. A white-space database has to offer capabilities such as checking for other registered devices, ensuring the device is registered with the database and calculating maps that identify TV channels, private land mobile radio service stations and wireless microphones.

Most of that information is available on the commission's web site, except for devices that aren't FCC-certified. This includes cable head ends — which cable providers use to pick up TV signals — and wireless microphones, said Peter Stanforth, chief technical officer with Spectrum Bridge, which also has applied to become a white-space database coordinator. The FCC has decided that cable providers must be protected too, so they will need to register with the database, Stanforth said. What's unclear is what to do with wireless microphones, many of which operate illegally in both the 700 MHz band and the white-space spectrum. The FCC has to give more clarity on this issue, Stanforth said.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) has proposed legislation that seeks to protect 13 different classes of wireless microphone users from interference. The bill would require the FCC to provide access to an electronic database where wireless microphone users would register their frequencies to protect their operations. The 13 different classes include amusement parks, arenas, convention centers, educational facilities, fairgrounds, government facilities, churches, lodging facilities, museums, recording studios, restaurants, stadiums and theaters.

The problem is that competing signals are everywhere, and in urban areas, there are so many TV stations that there is little available spectrum between channels to use. Consequently, white space increasingly is being viewed as spectrum that may be most viable in rural areas.

Spectrum Bridge in October deployed the world's first white-space network, using an experimental license from the FCC, in Claudville, Va., a small rural community lacking broadband connectivity.

The network served as a middle-mile link between the wired backhaul and Wi-Fi hotspot networks deployed in Claudville's business area and its school. The same network also successfully provided last-mile broadband connectivity to end users. But Stanforth said opportunity does exist in urban areas for a plethora of applications ranging from utility smart grids to intelligent homes.

Google, Dell, Microsoft and other big players backing the use of white-space spectrum don't want to see the market relegated to just rural areas. With Google now flexing its sizeable muscles in this area, 2010 should be the year that determines what market develops for these potentially vital airwaves.

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