Google Back to 'White Space'

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Google is still trying to get into the broadband game — but without plunking down billions of dollars for spectrum licenses.

The Internet giant was a registered participant in the Federal Communication Commission's 700-Megahertz TV airwaves auction, which ended March 18 and raised a net $19.1 billion in bids.

But Google didn't end up winning any licenses. Instead, the company returned to lobbying the FCC on the use of unlicensed “white space” spectrum, which would enable “much-needed competition to provide ubiquitous wireless broadband access to all Americans,” Google wrote in a March 21 letter to the FCC.

White space, which refers to unused spectrum in the 54- to 698-MHz TV band, would be able to deliver “a faster, longer range, higher data rate Wi-Fi service — 'Wi-Fi 2.0' if you will,” wrote Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media lawyer.

Broadcasters oppose such schemes for exploiting white space, alleging that unlicensed white-space Internet devices will interfere with TV signals and wireless microphones.

An FCC test last year concluded that prototype devices “do not consistently sense or detect TV broadcast or wireless microphone signals.”

Google is now trying to buttress its claims that spectrum-sensing features in consumer electronics devices will address this hurdle.

The company cited Motorola's proposal for enhanced spectrum protection that would combine geolocation (to avoid interfering with TV signals) and beacons (to detect microphones). The geolocation technology would prevent a white-space wireless device from transmitting anything until it received an “all clear” for a particular channel, based on a lookup in a database of licensed TV transmitters in a geographic area.

Google also proposed a safe harbor for wireless microphones in channels 36 to 38.

“We are confident [the plan] will eliminate any remaining legitimate concerns about the merits of using the white space for unlicensed personal/portable devices,” Whitt wrote in the letter.

However, National Association of Broadcasters executive vice president of media relations Dennis Wharton, in a prepared statement on Google's proposal, said: “Unfortunately, simply adding geolocation and beacon sensing does not mean that mobile operation is suddenly feasible. Portable, mobile personal device operation in the same band as TV broadcasting continues to be a guaranteed recipe for producing interference and should not be allowed under any circumstances.”

According to the NAB, 70 lawmakers to date have expressed concern over the use of unlicensed personal-portable devices in the broadcast spectrum.

Google and its cohorts in the White Spaces Coalition —which include Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Philips, EarthLink and Samsung — believe the spectrum is a wasted natural resource.

Whitt said only 5% of white-space spectrum is used today. “The value of the TV white space to all Americans simply is too great to allow this unique opportunity to be blocked by unfounded fear, uncertainty, and doubt,” he wrote.