Wednesday, November 5, 2008

FCC frees (some of) the spectrum

Amidst the hullaballoo of the presidential election, it's easy to miss a piece of news that is potentially more important: the FCC has freed the "white space" of the electromagnetic spectrum for unlicensed use, à la wi-fi. The parts of the spectrum that they've released were formerly used for padding in between television stations and in niche wireless microphone devices, but advances in technology have allowed these pieces of the spectrum to be used without interfering with traditional broadcasts.

Like wi-fi, these portions of the spectrum will be free for all to use (I expect with some minor restrictions), and won't be monopolized like the current bandwidths used by cell phone carriers. But unlike wi-fi, these spectrum ranges allow signals to travel "two to three times farther than WiFi signals can today, including through obstacles." While this isn't far enough to allow potential carriers to set up a single antenna and serve a large area like with current cell phones, it is possible to have ubiquitous connection through the use of mesh networks.

It's difficult to know today exactly how these spectrum ranges will be used in the future, but it strikes hard at the heart of traditional cell phone carriers' business models, and has the potential to introduce desperately-needed competition into the wireless data industry. For past posts on the spectrum, check out the open spectrum archive.

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