White Space Backhaul at SXSW

At SXSW this weekend unlicensed “white space” spectrum is being used to provide backhaul to local WiFi access points. In Austin, there are 14 of these open TV channels available for whitespace use. Engadget has more SXSW coverage.

The ‘We Heart Wifi‘ initiative is collecting signatures on a petition to the FCC against the selling off of TV spectrum, in the hope for greater availability for unlicensed use.

The Register explains that White Space devices, which use an online database to work out what frequencies are unoccupied locally, have been legal to use in parts of the US since late last year, but on 1 March it became legal to use such devices anywhere in the USA.

That’s why the “We <heart> WiFi” group has decided to use them as backhaul for the SXSW Wi-Fi deployment.

The idea of opening unlicensed spectrum at the expense of licensed spectrum is not generally popular with mobile operators and MVNOs, observes Fierce Wireless. But on the Ting blog, Ken Schafer, executive vice president of products for Tucows, wrote that support for the We Heart WiFi effort complements Tucows’ belief that the so-called “open Internet” benefits everyone.

Ting uses the Sprint CDMA, 3G, 4G WiMAX, and 4G LTE nationwide networks, but is a virtual network that is entirely responsible for the service.

The campaign is another spinoff from Fight For The Future, the group responsible for The Internet Defence League. Fred Wilson, a VC and principal of Union Square Ventures is one of the creators of this project and has supported it financially.

According to White Space advocate Albert Wenger, a partner at Union Square Ventures, auctioning spectrum off generates a small short term gain for government but at the price of much reduced longterm benefit to society.

Why? Because the winning bidder is now saddled with a big payment that they need to recover. That is (a) money not available for investing in the network and (b) to recover it the price for the network will be artificially high. Furthermore, by concentrating the investment in a few large entities financing and market structure (lack of competition) become the real limitations to network capacity and pricing.

Fortunately we now have proof that there is an alternative way that avoids these problem: unlicensed spectrum with good engineering standards. That’s what we have with WiFi and the results have been nothing short of astounding.

Economist Richard Thanki (pdf) believes that the economic value generated even by a subgroup of unlicensed broadband applications is between $16-$37 billion per year.

Virtually every laptop, tablet and smartphone depends on three channels on a 2.4 GHz “junk” band.

  • Personal area networks, local area networks, and municipal wireless networks are all forced to use the same spectrum that is now so overcrowded it’s a marvel that any device can function at all.
  • City utilities like pump stations, remote monitoring, the smart grind, smart meters, medical, automotive, and first responder applications depend on the ability to establish networks quickly and cheaply. White space technology enables inexpensive rural broadband and backhaul, when and where you need it.
  • The explosive, world-wide app economy, as well as health and fitness sensors, WiFi, Bluetooth, and home entertainment depend on unlicensed spectrum.
  • Mobile operators are rapidly taking over “free” WiFi networks. Their WiFi “Hetnets” are available only to subscribers. Other users must comply to tracking by advertisers.

The revenue generated by unlicensed spectrum is almost incalculable.

It enabled the app economy, ebooks and magazines, innovative devices and products of all kinds.

White space opponents, like Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) share a philosophy similar to that of his former State Senator, turned NAB lobbyist, Gordon Smith (right).

Stop competition. Tax the air.

Cognitive radio chips are used by the two major white space standards groups; IEEE 802.11af and IEEE 802.22. The maximum possible data rate per 6-MHz channel ranges from 18 to 22 Mbits/s. The 802.22 spec was designed for fixed rural use, operating on 6 MHz wide channels. In contrast, the 802.11af standard can aggregate channels into 5, 10, and 20 MHz bandwidths, and is designed for both mobile and fixed devices.

But “super wifi”, occupying unused broadcast television frequencies, seem unlikely to challenge either big carriers or broadcasters. The channels are only 6 Mhz wide and limited to 100 milliwatts for mobile devices. Machine to machine communications might be a large user of the unlicensed spectrum since the 600 MHz spectrum could penetrate foliage and walls, but don’t need high speed connections.

The commission also seeks to free up 195 Mhz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band, the largest block of unlicensed spectrum to be made free for WiFi expansion since 2003, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski revealed.

In related news, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, recently advised the administration that some 1000 MHz of federal spectrum, especially between 2.7 GHz and 3.7 GHz, may be shared using similar White Space interrogation technology.

The 3550-3650 MHz band is mostly used by Navy radar. Devices will be able to share the frequencies with the government if they incorporate geographic location information and interrogate data bases before they transmit. The Navy’s SPY-1 phased-array radar, used for missile tracking, uses 3.1-3.5 GHz.

Related Dailywireless articles include; FCC Supports National White Space Networking, War 2.0 for Unlicensed Spectrum, Congressional Battle over Unlicensed Spectrum, FCC: TV Auction in 2014, Spectrum War: Unlicensed, Shared and Auctioned, White Space Radio using 802.11af Demoed, FCC: TV Auction in 2014 , FCC Dishes Dirt, Talks Up 3.5 GHz, Spectrum Bridge Partners with Carlson Wireless, Incentive Auctions: Going Nuclear, AT&T Fears FCC’s Incentive Auction Plans, FCC Moves on TV Frequency Auction, Google and Microsoft Want UK White Space?, Microsoft Announced Narrow Channel Whitespace, Microsoft Announced Narrow Channel Whitespace, FCC Authorizes White Space Service in Wilmington, Genachowski Lobbies for Unlicensed White Spaces, Universal Service Reform Passed, Microsoft Announced Narrow Channel Whitespace,

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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