Microsoft has already turned on a white-space enabled high-speed Wi-Fi network at its Redmond, Wash. campus.  (Source: MoneyBlog)
Move could supercharge Wi-Fi networks from Microsoft, Google, and others

When the U.S. transitioned to all-digital television broadcast in June 2009, the bandwidth need to transmit TV channels shrunk, leaving blocks of unused spectrum behind.  

Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Google co-founder Larry Page lobbied the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to allow this so-called "white space" to be put to good use.  However, despite an FCC vote in November 2008 approving such use, it has been slow to come thanks to opposition from TV broadcasters.

However, the the FCC finally appears to be on the verge of reapproving white space use. That's great news for the wireless industry as the freed spectrum is lower frequency than the typical wireless spectrum, meaning that signals broadcast on it can more easily past through walls of buildings, trees, or other obstacles.

The benefits won't be seen equally by everybody though.  In cities, more TV stations broadcast, with each station getting a smaller chunk of the total spectrum than in rural areas.  That means that in most cities there's less freed white space than in rural areas.

Nobody knows quite how big an impact opening the white space will have.  FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski comments, "We know what the first kind of deployments will be.  But this will also be a platform for innovators and entrepreneurs.  There is every chance of this leading to the development of one or more billion-dollar industries."

Proponents of the measure like Google say that the result will be "Wi-Fi on steroids", and will provide an affordable way to cover hard-to-access rural areas.  A small, but significant portion of the U.S. doesn't have access to high-speed internet services.

Interestingly the FCC is opting to give the spectrum away for free, declining to license or auction it off.  Previously the FCC had indicated that it might sell the white space and use the revenue generated to help finance its national broadband plan.

Television broadcasters have sued the FCC to try to block the use, as they claim it might interfere with their signals.  Independent tests, though, have shown that such problems are unlikely, and the use seems slated to be pushed through despite the objections.

The FCC's final decision on who gets to use white space and how will be officially published at the FCC's Sept. 23 meeting.  Microsoft, though, is so confident that the news will be good that it's already switched on its campus white space network in its hometown of Redmond, Washington.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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