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Google's Page Goes To Washington To Promote 'White Spaces'

Page sees slivers of unused wireless spectrum filling a role similar to Wi-Fi -- free and available widely across the United States.
Google co-founder Larry Page intensified the campaign to make "white spaces" spectrum available for use by mobile phones and other wireless devices in a visit to Washington lawmakers this week.

Page toured the Federal Communications Commission and Congress during the week, meeting with FCC officials and members of Congress, including John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Underlying issues are whether the slivers of unused spectrum will cause interference with other spectrum and whether white spaces could be auctioned.

"A big question is, will the FCC approve use of the white spaces for free?" asked spectrum expert Joe Nordgaard. "The government just auctioned off the 700-MHz spectrum for $19 billion, so it may not be so easy to ask for free spectrum."

Page sees the white spaces filling a role similar to Wi-Fi -- free and available widely across the United States. "Wi-Fi on steroids" is how he envisions white spaces.

Battle lines for and against white spaces usage are already in place, with Google and other powerhouse providers like Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Microsoft lining up against broadcasters and some mobile phone service providers.

Another problem is that there are still no available devices that can take advantage of the white spaces, which fill in spaces alongside TV channels. Nordgaard, who is managing director of wireless consultancy Spectral Advantage, said it "shouldn't be too difficult" to develop "data devices that can sniff out the holes in spectrum." One challenge for device manufacturers will be to develop a universal device that can operate in different markets across the country, he added.

To date, manufacturers have failed to produce a working device that could take advantage of the white spaces spectrum. The National Association of Broadcasters has argued that improper use of the white spaces spectrum would cause interference of other spectrum. The group has summed up its opposition to the devices in ads stating: "If the devices fail in pristine lab conditions, can you really trust them in the real world?"

Google has said its Android handset program should produce some devices capable of using the white spaces spectrum by the end of 2009. Another vigorous proponent of white spaces usage has been Microsoft, whose Danger handset unit is believed to be working on white spaces devices.

Earlier this month, Motorola asked the FCC to examine a device with sensors that it believes can avoid interference connected with white spaces spectrum.

In his Washington meetings, Page was frank about the benefit white spaces usage would have to Google. He was quoted in media reports as saying: "If we have 10% better connectivity in the U.S., we get 10% more revenue in the U.S., and those are big numbers for us."