TV airwaves: the way of the future

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The technology that promises to open up a new Internet broadband pipe worldwide-dubbed TV white space-has become a hot topic of debate in the United States, pitting computer and Internet technology industries against television broadcasters and manufacturers of wireless audio systems.

Specifically, white space refers to the unlicensed portion of the radio spectrum between television channels. In any given city, several portions of the spectrum between 54 and 598 megahertz aren't used, which serves as an excellent opportunity for Internet access technology to use up some of that empty space for affordable wireless broadband. There is especially a lot of TV white space available in rural areas, where this sort of thing would be most beneficial due to a lack of wired connections.

The high-to-very high frequency part of the spectrum provides potential for widespread broadband coverage across the world, particularly in rural areas, because of an ability to penetrate buildings and bad weather in addition to the infrastructure largely in place necessary for implementation. Though interest in developing the technology has been in the works for a couple years, renewed focus on white space has come following Google's failed bid for a portion of the spectrum over 698 megahertz that will become available following the U.S.-mandated switch from analog television formats to digital. Google hoped the 700 megahertz band could be developed into a broadband Internet source. Ranked 15th out of 30 by the Organization For Economic Co-Operation and Development in Jun. 2007, the U.S. has been widely criticized for not having a solid plan to improve accessibility.

Now that the 700 megahertz band is no longer on the table, however, the Wireless Innovation Alliance-a coalition of several industry leaders including Google, Microsoft, Dell and HP-is the best chance for the development of a new broadband Internet source. The road to a new viable broadband pipe seems long and treacherous with increasing hostility from TV broadcasters who worry the use of TV white space will cause interference for their broadcasts, worried the white space devices currently in development won't be up to the task of properly distinguishing between occupied and unoccupied space.

The Sports Technology Alliance, which includes representatives from MLB, NASCAR, NBA, NCAA, NFL, NHL, The PGA Tour and ESPN are among dissenters to the introduction of unlicensed devices into the white spaces. Their main complaint lies within the potential of such devices interfering with their audio equipment. In a letter sent to the U.S. Federal Communication Commission on behalf of the STA, the Association for Maximum Service Television claims, "The overwhelming majority of wireless microphones, wireless video assist devices and related audio equipment use the TV white space channels for communications."

"The 'spectrum sensing' scanners used by these devices cannot reliably detect occupied digital television channels and are easily broken," read another letter filed by MSTV to the FCC. The concern certainly doesn't seem unfounded. Even today, when tuning in a radio, one can often find that awkward point at which you receive signals from two different sources, leading to a jumbled amalgamation of two radio stations. That's precisely what MSTV thinks will happen if TV white spaces are moved into.

However, the WIA seems unphased by these claims as they continue to work on developing white space devices that sense digital broadcast and wireless audio signals so as not to interfere with them. It's been a rough ride along the way though, as MSTV has rightly pointed out the devices that have been developed thus far have been unable to get the job done. Still, despite hostility, there seems to be plenty of support for the technology, but not just for use as an Internet access point.

The website mentions the idea of using trailer-mounted communications towers running on unlicensed air for maintaining a communication line in disaster areas where infrastructure has been damaged. The technology is also expected to bring television directly to mobile devices anywhere they go, allowing users watch the news or their favourite TV show on the train or bus ride to work.

It can also be used for greater reliability for communication during emergencies for first responders, according to the site.

"Aerial video surveillance provides safety officials with a live aerial view for routine surveillance or to a major events or disasters. With aerial video surveillance, an 'eye in the sky' transmits video images back to the ground via the city's unlicensed wireless mesh network," the site said.





This technology looks very hopeful, as long as greedy service providers such as Telus or Shaw don't get their hands on it first.
Knowing Canada, it will likely take a few hundred years for anything to happen. However, it the US Google seems quite interested to make it completely free, but ad supported, which is fine by me.