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Cable Technology Feature Article

August 28, 2013

TV White Spaces Have to Move Beyond 'Experimental Licenses'

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

A couple of observations about TV white spaces, on a global basis, can be drawn from talks at the Super Wi-Fi and Shared Spectrum Summit. First, we are at a stage of experimental licenses, not commercial potential.

“The big challenge is that we are running ahead of the market,” said Paul Garnett, Microsoft (News - Alert) director of Technology Policy. “There is no market until the government licenses it.” 

And right now, though regulators in Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore and the United States have announced plans to open up use of TV white spaces spectrum for communications applications, nowhere has any regulator yet approved widespread operations on a commercial basis.

Also, it is clear that many potential use cases exist for TV white spaces spectrum, ranging from backhaul for mobile service providers to wireless ISP access operations.

TV white spaces will be used first for backhaul and WAN applications, said Peter Flynn, TI product and program manager.  Lower power consumer (access) devices will follow, with smaller hotspot footprints.

So “there are two modes of white spaces: access and backhaul,” Flynn said. Dr. Hiroshi Harada, head of the Smart Wireless Lab at NICT Japan (News - Alert), sees TV white spaces also as a disaster recovery network.

But some are very encouraged about potential for TV white spaces to function as an affordable way of providing Internet access to billions of people with no access.

“TV white spaces are a game changer for community broadband in low density areas,” said Jim Carlson (News - Alert), CEO Carlson Wireless.

Arno Hart, TENET TV white spaces trial manager, is conducting a trial in Capetown, South Africa intended to demonstrate that a consumer broadband service can be built even in a dense urban area without causing interference with licensed TV broadcasters.

Bill Narin, formerly principal of Ikena Consulting and now with Carlson Wireless (News - Alert), pointed out one of the key early challenges, aside from convincing regulators to allow use of TV white spaces. Most of the 60 percent of people in Africa and Asia live in rural areas and have low income, so there is an average revenue per user challenge.

But the immediate challenge is simply that TV white spaces, moving ahead in a handful of countries, still must be approved in nearly all countries. “Test licenses only go so far,” said Garnett. “We’ve got to get the governments to get the regulations in place.”

Edited by Alisen Downey

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