Monday, 10 November 2008

White Space and Super WiFi

Somewhere hidden away beneath the election fallout last week came the news from the US that white space, the unused frequency between TV stations' analogue transmissions, is going to be freed up for use by the communications industry. The FCC ruling came after heavy lobbying from Google, who stand to benefit most from the new bandwidth as TV switches over to digital.

The main benefit for people away from their home internet connection appears to be turbocharged Wifi, broadcasting over far wider ranges and at much higher speeds than is currently possible. Obviously more time spent online means more revenue for Google, so a good short term gain for them.... The real potential for immediate step change though is what happens if these bandwidths could be used for voice calling. As Jeff Jarvis comments in the NY Post

When we can get fast bandwidth on portable devices, we can use those gadgets to do anything from making phone calls to browsing the Web.

In other words, kiss those old phones and two-year contracts goodbye and turn to new, open devices that run software from - you guessed it - Google.

Suddenly the open platform Android looks like a the consumer champion when compared to those walled garden mobile networks, not to mention the iPhone. All radical stuff, and in the run up to the analogue switch-off over here, something that is equally applicable in the UK...

Or is it? After all, public service broadcasting is a far bigger beast in the UK than the US. Surely free national turbo wifi in place of the BBC's analogue bandwidth would remove large amounts of criticism over the licence fee (especially if it was subsidised by a partnership with Google). Alternatively, with C4 negotiating for licence fee funding to maintain its public sector remit, and basing the case on the fact that they are losing valuable analogue bandwidth when they switch to digital, is there a rationale for OFCOM allowing them to keep their current bandwidth after switchover, and auction it off on the open market?


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