Sound Advice: Into the Deep White Spaces
May 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley
Complications arise over the expansion of wireless devices into the analog spectrum.
While you're at InfoComm, you may hear a ubiquitous referencing of the term “white space.” It refers to neither art nor fashion, but it is shaping up to become the global-warming issue of the RF universe in the United States. A serious hot button between both manufacturers of wireless audio products and their users, white spaces are the frequency bands between analog television channels. When the United States switches over to digital broadcasting (DTV) in February of next year, those bands and the old analog channels they separate will have gone to the highest bidder amongst a group of huge media corporations who want to use them for a new generation of consumer wireless devices.
We now know who the winners are. On March 20, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that telecom giants Verizon Wireless and AT&T took home the big prizes. Verizon bid $9.6 billion for most of the licenses in the prime 700MHz radio spectrum. AT&T won most of the regional licenses with bids totaling $6.6 billion.
It's those same white spaces that professional wireless audio users — concerts, theater, and so on — have been using in a very ordered (well, mostly) manner for decades. But now, professional audio is watching the titans in Washington, D.C., play football with their bread and butter.
Consumer electronics manufacturers and service providers that have enormous political clout via trade groups such as the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) had long eyed these not-so-wide-open spaces. But another pair of giants (the names are about as big as they get in the new-media business) — Google and Microsoft, who are rivals in many other aspects of Internet business — had combined to petition the FCC to make the “unused” white space available for wireless Internet access as well, and in an unregulated manner. Dell, HP, Intel, and other computer-oriented corporations are joining the two technology behemoths in the effort, now called the White Space Coalition. Proponents of white-space networking claim that it could be used to allow broadband Internet connections of up to 80Gbps or 10GBps.
While Google did bid on the spectrum, its top bid barely surpassed the $4.6-billion minimum. It was enough clout to give the online search king what it really wanted: making certain that spectrum owners can't block out Internet or telecom rivals.
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