Google-Backed 'Super Wi-Fi' Plan Gets FCC Approval

The regulatory agency has granted Google and eight other companies a conditional role in the deployment of white spaces broadband.
The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday conditionally granted nine companies the opportunity to manage databases that will serve to coordinate the usage of "white spaces" -- underutilized frequencies of the broadcast spectrum -- for high-speed wireless broadband networking.

Google, one of the nine companies selected (only nine submitted proposals), heralded the the FCC's decision by declaring, "Today we’re one step closer to a world with 'super Wi-Fi.'"

For several years, Google has been backing the use of the spectrum between the frequencies used for television broadcasts as a way to deliver affordable high-speed wireless broadband, an interest reflected in related initiatives like the Google Fiber project.

Larry Page, Google's once and future CEO (he will regain the title when Eric Schmidt steps aside in April), spoke at length on the value of white spaces during an event at the New America Foundation in May, 2008. "The use that we can make of this spectrum when we have open innovation is quite amazing," he said.

But making use of white spaces will require some coordination, so that upcoming TV band wireless networking devices don't interfere with licensed TV band users like broadcast television stations. That's where the database operators like Google come in: Their databases will tell TV band devices which TV frequencies are vacant and available for use.

The next steps in the regulatory dance include a series of mandatory workshops to ensure that database operators can comply with FCC rules and tests of the databases themselves.

The other eight companies tapped as white spaces database operators are: Comsearch, Frequency Finder, KB Enterprises and LS Telcom (jointly), Key Bridge Global, Neustar, Spectrum Bridge, Telcordia Technologies, and WSdb.

There's a chance, however, that the FCC may have to rethink its white spaces initiative. In February, 2009, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Association for Maximum Service Television filed a lawsuit to to block the agency's plan, based on concerns that white space usage will cause interference for broadcasters. That case has yet to be resolved. In the meantime, the NAB says it will remain engaged with regulatory negotiations.

"The exclusive use of database techniques for interference control is largely uncharted territory in spectrum regulation and full of practical challenges," said Dennis Wharton, EVP of communications for the NAB, in an e-mailed statement. "It's critical that the transition of this technique from theory to practice doesn't result in interference that prevents consumers from receiving free television broadcasts. We'll watch for the updated proposals from the prospective database managers with intense interest and participate actively in the continuing FCC process."

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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer