Feb. 11, 2009 SDF White Space Networking

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On February 11, 2009 in Palo Alto at Pillsbury Winthrop SDForum’s Emerging Technology SIG hosted Victor Bahl’s presentation “White Space Networking & The Commoditization of Pervasive Internet Access”. Text from DJCline.com

Victor Bahl is a Principal Researcher and founding Manager of the Networking Research Group in Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington. Today Internet connectivity is a commodity. We want low-cost Internet access everywhere. Some pioneering cities like Philadelphia tried blanket wireless coverage and failed. Recently the FCC has opened up new white-space frequencies. There are several new strategies and technologies that may help bring about pervasive connectivity. They include a convergence of white space networking, cognitive systems, and mesh networking. Text from DJCline.com

In the 1930’s, the best technology available was vacuum tubes and analog signals. If transmitters broadcast at frequencies too close together they would interfere with each other creating noise. To keep this from happening, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulated the electromagnetic spectrum for traditional radio and television, assigning broadcast licenses to only a few who could afford them. The results were a few hundred radio and television stations broadcasting to millions of receivers with very little interference. Text from DJCline.com

By the 1990’s the growth of wireless communication from cell phones and computers put new demands on a spectrum that had been limited to amateur hobbyists, police, fire and military users. The rise of digital communication allowed more precise broadcasting with less interference. The FCC began studying ways to open more spectrum, including the part used by analog broadcasters in the television Upper High Frequency (UHF). Opening this spectrum promised to offer a third pipe to the Internet, the other two being phone or cable companies. Text from DJCline.com

One side huge side effect was the conversion of hundreds of TV stations and millions of television sets to handle the new digital signals. The other effect was the opening up of the remaining spectrum to new digital services called white space. Text from DJCline.com

The idea of white space is that not all of a particular frequency or range of frequencies is used at the same time. For example, a freeway has many cars on it at the same time. They share or change lanes. A wireless device should be able to detect an available frequency and connect to a network, the same way a driver will look for an opening when changing lanes. The result is much more traffic on the same freeway which used to have dedicated lanes to only a few drivers. White space technology allows more users and traffic on the same amount of spectrum. Text from DJCline.com

Victor Bahl gave very detailed presentation of the history and current state of white space technology. The faster the broadband access the more services and economic growth can take place. The United States finds itself with a broadband bottleneck that can be overcome with white space technology. Millions of Americans have WiFi in their homes that could be connected in mesh networks without paying cable of phone companies a dime. There is a White Spaces Coalition with companies like Dell, Earthlink, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft and Samsung pushing for this in the 700-megahertz band. The standard set in America could be the global standard as other countries decide what direction to take. Text from DJCline.com

Granted there are not large swaths of spectrum in urban areas, but there does not need to be. Only a small slice of spectrum will be needed for a short time. If necessary the device will detect potential interference and switch to another in a fraction of a second. The user may not even be aware of it, just as they are not aware of switching relay stations as they talk on their cell phones as they move down a street. Text from DJCline.com

Bahl believes there has to be a comprehensive approach building white space networks. There are technical issues of frequency and range that still need to be worked out. There are the inevitable government regulatory issues to deal with. Profitable business models must be found for people to invest in. Most importantly we must reach across the digital divide so even the poorest among us can take advantage of the new opportunities it could provide.

White space could create enough digital space for all of us. Text from DJCline.com


Copyright 2009 DJ Cline All rights reserved.