Martin, Page Push White Spaces

Google cofounder and President of Products Larry Page and U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin acted as a tag team promoting unlicensed "white spaces" networks on Thursday, appearing together at the Wireless Communications Association International conference in San Jose, California.

On Tuesday, the FCC approved rules to allow new wireless devices to operate in unused television spectrum, the so-called "white spaces" that Google, Microsoft and other companies have pushed as a new frontier for broadband over the objections of broadcasters.

Google's Page said the ruling can help pave the way for widespread fast Internet access that "just works." If wireless broadband were ubiquitous, Google could make 20 percent to 30 percent more money from its core search advertising business, Page said. But he said part of the motivation is to improve people's lives through better coverage.

"I think the debate is, 'Is this going to be really useful, or really, really, really useful?'" Page said during a news conference where he and Martin discussed the white-spaces initiative.

Martin said the FCC foresees white-spaces access boosting Americans' productivity by giving them fast access to information in more places.

Both expect the use of these frequencies to unfold much the same way Wi-Fi did, with consumers and service providers finding their own uses for white-spaces devices and setting up ad-hoc networks and public hotspots.

Page said vendors are already working on chipsets for white-spaces products, and he hopes to see significant progress on commercial devices within 18 months. To save time and effort, developers can and should reuse a lot of the technology built into the IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN standard, Page said.

The U.K. and other countries are also looking at white-spaces broadband, but Google is putting a lot of effort into the U.S. market partly because the country is big enough to drive economies of scale, Page said. He looks to the roughly US$5 price of Wi-Fi chips as a model for a technology that could become cheap enough for wide global use.

Google, a stranger in Washington, D.C., not long ago, is working more closely with the FCC, both men said. In fact, Google was instrumental in introducing the ideas of geolocation and a database of TV stations' coverage areas, which will be key tools for preventing interference when devices work in the unlicensed white spaces, according to Martin.

Earlier on Thursday, Martin told the conference that his agency is about to consider a set of rules that might open the door to more high-speed mobile services, such as WiMax, across the U.S.

Martin said he will circulate in the next few days a proposal for coexistence between satellite radio and networks licensed under a system called WCS (Wireless Communications Services). His intent is to balance service opportunities with concerns about interference, he said in a speech at WCAI.

Such a plan has been a long time coming, according to Paul Sinderbrand, an attorney with Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP who represents WCAI. WCS licenses were issued in the late 1990s but have not been used significantly, partly because concerns about interference with satellite radio have reduced their usefulness, he said.

WCS would use frequencies between 2305MHz and 2320MHz and between 2345MHz and 2360MHz. Under a temporary authorization, satellite radio providers have been using the band in between to extend their signals to places where satellite signals can't reach, such as tunnels or streets with tall buildings, Sinderbrand said. Partly because of the concerns about interference with those satellite signals, the rules for WCS make it unfeasible to offer mobile services, he said. WCS license holders, such as NextWave Wireless, want to do just that, probably offering mobile WiMax, according to Sinderbrand.

A new set of rules for this band probably would give the satellite companies permanent permission to use the middle band and also make it feasible to offer mobile broadband in the WCS spectrum, Sinderbrand said. If that proposed framework is circulated among the commissioners soon as Martin promised, Sinderbrand believes it could be approved within a matter of weeks. The result could be new nationwide mobile WiMax services. It's unclear how long it would take for those networks to be rolled out, but WiMax is already being offered in South Korea with frequencies very close to these bands, so existing equipment might be available with little modification, he said.

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