Does anyone realize that the FCC met on Election Day? Aside from those of us following this stuff minute-by-minute, it appears that this monumental development has gone generally untouched in national media. It’s rather technical in nature, of course, but the ramifications of their decision in that meeting are huge.
The FCC met on Election Day and voted to approve the use of white spaces for unlicensed devices in the US. Whaaa? Here’s how it goes. In between every channel on your rabbit-ear television set is a whole bunch of spectrum reserved long ago because signal transmission wasn’t great. They left some buffer room to allow for enough space so that the channels woudn’t overlap and run into each other.
Now that all over-the-air television broadcasts are going to be digital on February 17, 2009, that area in between channels isn’t needed anymore. Digital transmission is very precise and doesn’t color outside the lines, if you will. So, we have all this unused spectrum in between each of the channels. And this frequency has legs. It travels far. Stations can broadcast for miles on this frequency because it’s “just right”.
What if you were to use that same frequency to, say, broadcast Internet? Whoa. A wireless router that broadcasts for miles instead of feet? Now there’s some potential there. Which is precisely what the FCC saw on Tuesday and which is precisely why this decision is so fantastic. Google is a huge supporter.
It has its detractors, though. Broadcasters say that picture quality will degrade, the crowded spectrum will cause signal interruption, etc. In independent tests, however, this has been generally disproved. Although, who knows what’ll really happen when we get millions of these devices out there.
The potential of this technology to provide Internet to millions more and to enable hand-held devices to communicate over this spectrum is truly mind-boggling. A Skype phone that can go anywhere and make free calls? High-speed Internet delivered to every remote corner of the country? It’s a revolution in wireless communication, and the Obama folks love it.
It’ll hit the newsstands when the devices roll out in 18 months or so, but for now, the dreams of engineers and social activists run wild.