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White Spaces
December 22, 2011 5:32 PM   Subscribe

A new form of wireless network known as White Spaces will come online next month, the FCC announced today. White Spaces has been called "WiFi on steroids". White spaces are unused spectrum between broadcast television channels. It is faster than WiFi so it can handle more data. It can bring (nearly) free Internet access to the most remote areas of the country, places that can't get WiFi. Because it uses broadcast television signals, any place that can pick up a broadcast TV signal should be able to tap into White Spaces.
posted by cashman (34 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
just in time for SOPA to shut down the internet as we know it! AWESOME.
posted by radiosilents at 5:36 PM on December 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


I missed the "nearly free" part.
posted by swift at 5:41 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cool, I can use Zigbee to noitify my Bluetooth device to point me to White Space using a wi-fi app on my iPhone.

OK, seriously, this could be a game changer.
posted by cccorlew at 5:42 PM on December 22, 2011


But can it cut cans?
posted by glaucon at 5:44 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This will hopefully help bring down costs of internet access for all and make internet available to communities that before couldn't access it as easily. Hopefully this can lessen the digital divide.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:48 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This sounded really cool until I saw that picture on the article. Why will it make me want to hide under the covers? I'm pretty sure it's not photoshopped either.
posted by hypersloth at 5:49 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


*first article, that is.

What I didn't see though, is how much faster than regular wi-fi it is. One article said Super Wi-Fi, so that's a lot. Can nobody say, because it's like the lanes aren't painted on the road yet?
posted by hypersloth at 5:56 PM on December 22, 2011


There is, of course, no guarantee that ISPs will choose to provide Internet access via the White Spaces wavebands for free, nearly free, or anything close to free, any more than, say, Internet access via Wi-Max, 3G, LTE, satellite or any other chunk of spectrum.

The wavelengths in the chunk of radio spectrum defined by the White Spaces propagate well, meaning you don't have to have line-of-sight to the transmitter, because they're lower frequency than Wi-Fi - but this also means you need a physically larger antenna to efficiently receive and transmit in this waveband.

I'm not sure I see any reason why communication in the White Space waveband will necessarily be "faster than Wi-Fi" either; longer range, yes, but faster throughput? Not necessarily.

BTW - I still think this is a Good Thing, but it's really just another resource to be exploited and sold back to American consumers at arbitrarily high margins.
posted by kcds at 5:57 PM on December 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


nm, found a link: "That means that we might not be that far off from 80 Mbps and above long-range wireless speeds and 400-800 Mbps short-range wireless networks."
posted by hypersloth at 5:58 PM on December 22, 2011


Where can I get a White Spaces router?
posted by wayland at 6:02 PM on December 22, 2011


I'm not sure I understand how this will be "nearly free." The ISPs will certainly have costs associated with transmitters, towers, power consumption, etc. I'd say they'd have similar costs to that of a local TV station, except they wouldn't have to pay meatheads to parrot the news. They would, however, have to pay staff for customer support, NOC, administration, and the like. Also, they'd need to pay for their presumably hard-wired connection to the backbone, or to a backbone provider.

So, all that adds up to a pretty decent overhead. Who would get into the business providing nearly free internet access? Would the government be subsidizing this?

Something doesn't add up for me.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:06 PM on December 22, 2011


I'm not sure I understand how this will be "nearly free." The ISPs will certainly have costs associated with transmitters, towers, power consumption, etc. I'd say they'd have similar costs to that of a local TV station, except they wouldn't have to pay meatheads to parrot the news. They would, however, have to pay staff for customer support, NOC, administration, and the like. Also, they'd need to pay for their presumably hard-wired connection to the backbone, or to a backbone provider.

Yeah, but they don't need to hardwire every house or install anywhere near as many transmitters, which means less infrastructure to maintain. If one transmitter can service a whole town, then that's nearly free compared to how things are now.

Who would get into the business providing nearly free internet access? Would the government be subsidizing this?

I was thinking municipal utilities eventually. I've heard of a few cities that supply municipal wifi as it is. Before that it'll probably be Verizon or whoever and hopefully they'll pass on the savings, at least when enough people have switched that they can stop supporting the current network. I've heard rumors that Verizon specifically no longer lays new fiber optic cable.
posted by cmoj at 6:13 PM on December 22, 2011


So, all that adds up to a pretty decent overhead. Who would get into the business providing nearly free internet access? Would the government be subsidizing this?

Something doesn't add up for me.


This may be the missing piece: The FCC appoints Google as the White Spaces database administrator.

I assume there needs to be a central database to ensure compliance and that there is no interference. I thought interference detection was going to be part of the hardware/software, but maybe not.

Anyways, this provides a great way for Google to provide fast bandwidth to millions of people who are hindered by the existing ISPs in the U.S. It will give them leverage in pushing for network neutrality. And of course it will give them more eyeballs for Google services and ads.
posted by formless at 6:18 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


nearly free

That will go so well with my electricity that is too cheap to meter.
posted by briank at 6:29 PM on December 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am not a techie, but I live in a rural, remote region. The president was here last year, speaking about the local university's WiMax network.

The population density here is low, so there is a significant percentage of people here who have no access to internet at home other than dial-up. We are a metal rich region (I live under the largest deposit of jasper in the world) so there are some geological and geographic issues that interfere with many types of wireless distribution. There are some places that can get satellite internet, but that is spotty at best. There are several schools that go without internet access altogether.

The WiMax network solved these problems within ~25 miles of campus. They installed antennas on top of existing structures. It took, I think, five workers three days and cost less than $10,000 to install. It is free for anyone who can pick up a signal, and the understanding is that some of the bandwidth is set aside for first responders and road crews.

To get WiMax, you need to make sure you can pick up the signal. You can do this by checking a device out of the college library. Then, if you get a signal, you buy a router that turns the WiMax signal into a wifi cloud within your home.

I imagine that white space internet has the potential to work like this. If it is treated as a municipal service, it could be free or very close to it. Even if a giant telco buys the rights to this, it would at least give underserved populations a better chance at access.
posted by Leta at 7:09 PM on December 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


Because it uses broadcast television signals, any place that can pick up a broadcast TV signal should be able to tap into White Spaces.

Unfortunately, that is not true at all. UHF TV transmitters typically transmit 500 to 1,000 kilowatts of power. Even if someone put up a 1,000 KW white-spaces data base station, it would cost approximately $120 per hour in electricity to run the corresponding 1,000 KW transmitter in a home to communicate with the base station. Not to mention the costs involved in getting the power company to set up 1 MW service to a residence.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:20 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Juffo,

The mechanics of broadcast are not the mechanics of bidirectional unicast streams. Think of this more like cell phones, where well provisioned towers interact with relatively low power widely deployed transceivers. The difference is that the frequency ranges being used are those normally proposed for broadcast, if that's a difference because cell and broadcast have been somewhat overlapping for decades.
posted by effugas at 7:28 PM on December 22, 2011


Think of this more like cell phones, where well provisioned towers interact with relatively low power widely deployed transceivers.

Sure, but cell phone towers have to be spaced very closely together compared to TV towers, precisely because they and the user equipment with which they communicate are low power devices.

The claim was that "any place that can pick up a broadcast TV signal should be able to tap into white space." This is not true unless we are talking about multi-kilowatt towers and user equipment. If you want to run a white spaces network with (relatively) low power towers and UE (which, granted, is the only practical way to run one), you would have to build numerous towers just like those required for a cellular network.

As for frequencies, the "white space" networks will be running in, what, the 472-696 MHz range, I think? Granted, those frequencies are better for propagation through objects than the 2.4 and 5.8 GHz bands used for Wi-Fi. But their propagation characteristics are neigher significantly better than that of the 800 (also commonly known as 850) MHz band which has been used by cellular phones in the US since 1983, nor than the 700 MHz band in use for 4G LTE service now.

So, while white space networks are definitely cool and interesting, they are miles away from allowing anyone in range of a broadcast TV signal to pick up a broadband Internet signal, and closer in nature to hoping an existing cellular operator will activate a tower in their current frequency bands near enough to one's house for one to receive service.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:41 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


just in time for SOPA to shut down the internet as we know it! AWESOME.

The writing's been on the wall for DNS a while now... lots of things are coming to a head in the next year from security, financial and legal angles. Something decentralized will take its place, and soon. Lots of contenders, fortunately... the dust will settle and you'll have a dominant option, a popular alternative, and a few weird tertiary things hanging around. Much better than a top-down hierarchy.

Also to be on the lookout for - virtual web services, aka cloud-in-cloud. You host a slice of your favorite website and its attendant data, and other p2p clients use new ubiquitous bandwidth and a few megs of local storage to do business without spending a thin dime on hosting. Porn and pirate sites first, others to follow, someone comes up with middleware to make it easy and corporate friendly, same as it ever was.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:58 PM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some, the broadcasters in particular, dispute the assertion that these new white space devices won't interfere with their broadcasts. The NAB has therefore been fighting this tooth and nail for years.
posted by intermod at 8:27 PM on December 22, 2011


Slap,

We're not done with DNS yet. Among other things, enjoy figuring out which MetaFilter is the real MetaFilter without the canonicalizing force of DNS establishing ground truth.
posted by effugas at 9:22 PM on December 22, 2011


Oh yeah, DNS has had it's day.

In the interim, are there any drop in replacements?

Maybe servers that provide the same interface as BIND but queries a P2P network behind the scenes. Host records are signed chunks of text. We still need some authority to certify that X is indeed the GPG key for metafilter.com Or do we?
posted by Ad hominem at 9:23 PM on December 22, 2011


Ok, existing SSL providers outside the US simply sign the canonical metafilter.com key. The ability to sign keys to verify identity is baked in already.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:29 PM on December 22, 2011


enjoy figuring out which MetaFilter is the real MetaFilter
posted by Jeff Howard at 9:41 PM on December 22, 2011


And by SSL providers I mean CAs. I'll leave the details up to whoever wants to run with it and be famous. I hereby give my new DNS, which now stands for Distributed Name Service, architecture to the world, no need to thank me.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:41 PM on December 22, 2011


I am not positive, but I remember reading somewhere (I think in the NY Times) that there are a number of other countries that have much better wireless networks throughout their whole country. Basically unfetterd access anywhere--no crappy hotspots to worry about. South Korea I believe was on of them and also Estonia I think. My guess is they have something similar to white space networks available there.

Apparently it is the FCC that has prevented us all in the US from having really great wireless internet. Of course it should come as no surprise that a regulatory agency has done such a miserable job--the reality is the current WiFi system in the US sucks a big one. Terrible quality, access and range. And it's so expensive.

We are long overdue for an improvement to our country's wireless networks. Hopefully, this is the first step.
posted by stevenstevo at 10:02 PM on December 22, 2011


"Apparently it is the FCC that has prevented us all in the US from having really great wireless internet."

Not so much that, but the end result of nearly 100 years of spectrum usage, starting from a fairly ad-hoc basis with regulation increasing (and increasingly necessary) as demand climbed. Throw in the need to have some international co-ordination of certain bands to minimise interference, and the fact that it's easy to allocate spectrum but hard to get it back (if for no other reason than the time required to wind down & replace existing equipment e.g. no-one is going to make 300+ million TV receivers redundant overnight), and you have the current schmozzle that's occurring all over the developed world.

Basically, spectrum isn't freely available - nor is each band equally suitable for each use - and the FCC, ITU, and everybody else across the world are reduced to futzing around to clear up little fairly narrow bands for new uses. 'White Space' has been cribbed from frequencies previously allocated to TV, and that was only really possible due to the fairly rapid conversion to digital the US undertook recently allowing them to shift allocations for existing broadcasters.

Former Eastern Bloc countries had the twin advantages of fewer spectrum users to start with, and the sudden release of frequencies previously allocated to military and government use when things collapsed. Sth Korea had the advantage of basically jumping over the sudden explosion of spectrum allocation and use that occurred in the rest of the world between the 30's & 70's, coupled with a fairly controlling government that restricted private allocations.

Coupled with new-ish modulation techniques (e.g. COFDM) and transmission formats, what were small and/or essentially dead bands in the past can now be put to use. But those bands have got to be freed up in the first place, and the transmissions allocated to them tested to co-exist happily with the older allocations still in use. That takes time, money, and effort.

There's a lot to blame the FCC for, but the nerd-anger against them for not giving spectrum to allow fast wireless internet everywhere is mostly misplaced. Blame everybody since about 1900 who didn't forsee the explosion of need for wireless internet in recent years…
posted by Pinback at 11:51 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I didn't see though, is how much faster than regular wi-fi it is. One article said Super Wi-Fi, so that's a lot. Can nobody say, because it's like the lanes aren't painted on the road yet?

Broadcast TV is a much lower frequency than wifi (~5 megahertz instead of ~5 gigahertz), and knowing very little about radio, I would have thought that this would result in considerably less bandwidth in the broadcast frequencies.

Is something else going on? Reduced interference allowing more throughput? Computerized transceivers slicing up the band into layers of superfine-tuned micro-bands operating in parallel?
posted by -harlequin- at 12:13 AM on December 23, 2011


Oh boy, if you guys hate trusted third parties, wait till you see what I can do to untrusted third parties.
posted by effugas at 2:59 AM on December 23, 2011


harlequin- Cable modems use broadcast frequencies too, and they have plenty of bandwidth.

I don't know the exact specifics, but part of the information theory of it is that it depends on how many MHz wide the channel is. TV channels are 6 mhz wide and non-overlapping, while WiFi channels are 5 mhz wide and overlapping.
posted by gjc at 5:56 AM on December 23, 2011


This seems like a hopeful development. I'm typing this onto a computer whose only Internet connection (out here in the wilds of southern Michigan) is through the local cell phone tower. Fast Internet would be nice - although I suppose it will be years/decades before we see this having solid real-world effects.

(I live under the largest deposit of jasper in the world)

I realize that this is probably a mistype, but I'm enjoying imagining that Leta is a proud dwarf of Middle Earth.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:12 AM on December 23, 2011


underground wireless internet is even trickier.
posted by jrishel at 9:50 AM on December 23, 2011


(I live under the largest deposit of jasper in the world)

I realize that this is probably a mistype, but I'm enjoying imagining that Leta is a proud dwarf of Middle Earth.
posted by AdamCSnider


That's quite the compliment, but no, I'm not a dwarf of Middle Earth, and no, it wasn't a mistype. I suppose a better way to put it would be that I live in a house built under an outcropping at the foot of the largest deposit of jasper in the world. That is also over an ancient cemetery and just to the south of an enormous hill of hematite. Maybe I belong to some other fantastic cohort?
posted by Leta at 1:23 PM on December 23, 2011


That is also acceptably awesome, Leta.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:53 PM on December 23, 2011


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