Will Google Waver in Its Commitment to White Spaces?

I am excited about the potential for unlicensed white spaces, unused broadcast spectrum serving as a buffer between television channels. As a lowly user, I see its enormous potential as a high-bandwidth successor to unlicensed Wi-Fi.

My enthusiasm for white spaces probably isn’t shared by the wireless operators, though. Having largely vanquished the commercial threat once posed by Wi-Fi, they aren’t eager to see another chunk of unlicensed spectrum impinge on their profit margins and business plans.

Not sharing the biases and business models of the carriers, Google’s disposition toward white spaces is more expansive.

While speaking at a session of the Churchill Club in Menlo Park, Calif., Vint Cert, an Internet progenitor who now serves as a vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google, said his company would like to see white spaces unlicensed. He also said technology exists today to enable use of white spaces.

Google recently offered to run a white-spaces database. Such a database, which could have several providers, is required to ensure that devices do not cause interference with nearby signals used for TV broadcasts. Google — along with Microsoft, HP, Motorola, Dell, and others — is a member of the White Spaces Database Group, which works on technical specifications for the database.

An early member of the White Spaces Coalition, an industry consortium that promoted the delivery of high-speed broadband Internet access over white spaces, Google also sponsored a campaign called “Free the Airwaves,” which touted white spaces as unlicensed spectrum that could be used like Wi-Fi.

As a Google product manager wrote on a company blog in the summer of 2008:

At its core, Free The Airwaves is a call to action for everyday users. You don’t need to be a telecommunications expert to understand that freeing the “white spaces” has the potential to transform wireless Internet as we know it. When you visit the site, you’ll be invited to film a video response explaining what increased Internet access could mean for you, to sign a petition to the FCC, to contact your elected officials, to spread the word, and more.

When it comes to opening these airwaves, we believe the public interest is clear. But we also want to be transparent about our involvement: Google has a clear business interest in expanding access to the web. There’s no doubt that if these airwaves are opened up to unlicensed use, more people will be using the Internet. That’s certainly good for Google (not to mention many of our industry peers) but we also think that it’s good for consumers.

As Google presses forward to establish carrier relationships for its Nexus One smartphone, we should watch closely to see whether its commitment weakens to white spaces as a complement or successor to Wi-Fi.

By the way, white spaces are mentioned only incidentally in the InfoWorld article on Vint Cert’s remarks to the Churchill Club. He talks about other issues, too, including the need for data-portability standards in cloud computing.

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