The American Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has this week given unanimous approval to the next step towards allowing companies to use vacant parts of the TV broadcast spectrum for wireless communications.
White space is the name given to the frequencies that fall in between TV channels in the 50MHz to 700MHz range. The plan is to use it for a new generation of wireless broadband that has been termed "WiFi on steroids". These networks could reach for several miles without a repeating station and allow for bandwidth of up to 20Mbps.
A typical layout would see a fibre-optic connection linked to a central transmitter which would broadcast to special receiving stations. These would then act as routers, allowing the signal to be received by computers using normal WiFi standards. Not only would this be ideal in cities - the lower frequency allows better penetration through solid objects - but it could provide a practical solution to delivering broadband in rural communities.
It's a mess out there!
The problem, though, is that the broadcast spectrum isn't used uniformly across the US, meaning that equipment designed for one city may meet interference in another. The decision by the FCC has laid the groundwork for the entire spectrum to be documented, opening the doors to white-space networks. The ruling also dropped controversial plans requiring devices to frequently access the national database to check for updates, although the body in charge of documenting the spectrum has yet to be named.
A lot of the giants of the tech industry are behind this ruling, with both Microsoft and Google already announcing their approval. The former has been trialling a white space network at its Redmond campus for some time, while the search-company has been running a test-scheme in a US hospital.
Full-scale deployment of white-space networks is still some way off, but this is an important step towards making the long-range networks a reality.