The IEEE has completed work on the ‘white space Internet’ standard, a set of specifications and guidelines that allow wireless network in the old analog TV airwaves.
The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) announced the 802.22 standard on Wednesday, over a year after the IEEE Working Group began to study the various methods to utilize the newly-opened spectrum.
The new standards specify frequencies from 54MHz to 698MHz, a range of spectra once devoted to analog television broadcasts (or, as the name implies, the ‘white spaces’ between them). With a much greater range but significantly reduced speed, the most likely application of the new standard is to provide coverage for rural and remote areas that have so far had considerable difficulty accessing the Internet.
In theory, white space Internet ‘wireless regional area networks’, or WRANs, allow for a range of 62 miles and speeds of up to 22Mbps -- although in both cases, the actual numbers will almost certainly be significantly lower. Nevertheless, a single 802.22 device could easily provide wireless access to a vast range (some estimates optimistically calculate that a few hundred devices could cover the whole of North America) and may provide a large-scale method of providing baseline Internet access to remote and developing regions.
Interestingly, the initial FCC decision that opened up white space spectrum characterized its use as “super Wi-Fi” in the words of chair Julius Genachowski, who made a point of touting the blazing speeds and potential for innovation. Two years later, the picture is much more cautious; the new white space Internet standards look to be extremely slow by existing standards, and the first generation or two of devices are likely to be expensive and limited, at least for the time being.
White space has been a touchy issue for years in the United States, although the role that it played in the demise of analog TV and the government-mandated rollout of DTV has been largely ignored (or overshadowed in some cases by the price to the consumer, the influence of powerful corporations and lobbies, and the considerable environmental issues of the DTV debate).
Organizations such as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have protested the potential interference of white space devices, even going so far as to file a suit against the FCC. Analog TV does not remain an interference issue, but wireless microphones are a noted concern and the list can be expanded to adjacent spectra covering remote controls and baby monitors.
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