Last updated: November 29, 2010 - 11:46am
[Commentary] The Federal Communications Commission is designating that unused TV channels be made available for low-power wireless devices. The move - pushed by tech giants Microsoft, Google, HP, and Dell -- is hailed as "liberalization", paving the way for "Wi-Fi on steroids." The exact same hype, including a similar "licence-exempt" plan, inspired a 2005 bandwidth set-aside for WiMax (at 3.6 GHz) that has since flopped.
The TV Band initiative is likewise a debacle in the making. Technology defines what is possible, but economics reveals the options that are best. Complex value trade-offs exist; state bureaucrats are flummoxed. The FCC has spent years pondering how white space devices should operate, rejecting every "smart radio" design submitted. They aim to protect viewers of over-the-air TV from reception interference. But how much protection, and at what cost? Each mandate forces new Wi-Fi radios to be better behaved in order to reduce the threat to Aunt Minnie's rabbit ears - but that raises their price or hampers their performance. For example, the FCC will not allow the new mobile devices to use more than a tiny splash of power (a small fraction of that permitted with Wi-Fi). Moreover, the radios must avoid any channel with a TV station on it or next to it - blocking off three channels per local TV broadcast. Such top-down restrictions are what produced vast "white spaces" to begin with.
Wi-Fi on steroids? Try Wi-Fi on a walker.
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- S. 2327 Wireless Innovation Act of 2006 (Winn Act)
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