Being a leader in any industry requires more than stellar financials and consistent growth. Maintaining a leadership position also requires a commitment to innovation -- something Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) has taken to heart. Its latest effort to change the IT landscape entails using so-called 'white space,' the unused and unlicensed part of TV broadcast spectrum, to bring wireless connectivity to the underserved masses.
What's white space, and who cares?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules to free up white space in 2010, and Google wasted little time diving into this previously untapped market. Google isn't alone in pursuing white space technologies, however. A couple of years ago, its mobile computing rivals Nokia and Microsoft joined 15 other companies in testing white space in the U.K.
Those trials demonstrated one of white space's most exciting features: The ability to pass through walls. In the U.K. test, a Nokia phone connected via white space was able to use its GPS function indoors, a feature usually lost with traditional wireless spectrum. The Nokia and Microsoft tests also reinforced another upside to white space: It's already there, and it's cheap. Someone's going to bring this concept to market, and though Nokia and Microsoft would certainly love to deliver the good news to market, Google is (again) leading the charge.
In keeping with the FCC regulations voted on in 2010, Google has launched its 'spectrum database,' a 45-day trial period with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that began March 4 and will run through April 17. Though available to anyone, the trial period is directed toward industry stakeholders – broadcasters, wireless spectrum providers, and the like – to test and provide feedback on the database. The objective of Google's database is to continuously monitor TV spectrum, determining where and when white space becomes available.
This database marks a critical step in bringing white space to the masses. Traditional TV spectrum owners are concerned that utilizing white space for wireless connectivity may cause interference with their own broadcasts. On-going monitoring of available white space spectrum will ensure no one steps on the TV industry's toes.
The idea of using essentially wasted spectrum is intriguing, to say the least. White space is a viable alternative to traditional wireless spectrum, because its low-frequency signals travel further. This makes white space perfect for rural areas and emerging countries without a wireless infrastructure. That's exactly what Google is doing in South Africa.
On Monday, Google launched a trial in 10 schools in Cape Town, South Africa, connecting the underserved market with broadband Internet connectivity using nothing but available, unlicensed white space.
In addition to monitoring wireless connectivity, Google hopes its Cape Town tests will prove that white space can be used without interfering with local TV broadcasters. If Google pulls this off, widespread use of white space in the U.S . could become a reality sooner rather than later, opening a new, potentially massive, market for Google. Of course, you can bet Nokia, Microsoft, and a number of as-yet-unknown competitors will get on the white space train, too; the potential is too big to ignore.
For Google and CEO Larry Page, the move to white space is par for the course; jump in front, and don't look back. It wasn't long ago that the idea of wearing glasses with functions like picture taking, Internet access, and operating on voice commands would have been too Carl Sagan-like to take seriously. Yet, Google glasses are almost ready to hit the market. How revolutionary are Google Glasses? Google's shades will likely require new legislation, as lawmakers seek regulatory guidelines to address driving concerns and questions about privacy.
Cloud computing, streaming video, social networking, mobile, self-driving cars, Internet TV; the number of Google's technological forays are seemingly endless. Now you can add wireless connectivity using white space to Google's expanding list of firsts. Not surprising, really; being first is what leaders do.
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