Google's free white space database could preempt paid competition and boost market

21 November 2013 by Steve Blum
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Room for broadband in the television space.

White space spectrum is finally moving out of the lab and toward commercial deployments. Google has opened up its database of usable U.S. white space frequencies to all comers, at no charge. The technology is far from standardised yet, but with free access to the data necessary to make it work, that process can get started.

The idea behind white space spectrum is that frequencies allocated for broadcast television service are not fully used. High power, mega-watt television channel assignments are staggered across different markets, to prevent interference. But a low powered broadband access point in Sacramento isn’t going to bother a television station in San Francisco.

Since the available TV band frequencies vary from place to place, even within a designated market, systems and devices that rely on white space spectrum need a way to figure out what’s available at any given location. The FCC gave the blessing to several companies to provide that information to manufacturers and operators, but Google might have preempted the market by being the first to step out with a fully accessible product and give it away for free.

Developers can sign up with Google and get the APIs that will link their hardware to the database. There are two versions – one for testing and the other to go live.

One vendor is already using the database in a trial deployment at West Virginia University, and GE is testing it for its machine-to-machine communications initiative, according to a blog post by Alan Norman, the overall lead for Google’s broadband access strategy.

Google’s database is a major white space milestone. Now that there’s a legal way for manufacturers and service providers to use the spectrum, at least in the U.S., the regulatory wrangling can give way to market-based competition and standards setting. Game on.