The FCC has announced that the world's first White Space database will go live on 26 January 2012, allowing unlicensed devices to find unused frequencies, as long as they're in Wilmington, North Carolina.
The FCC has, as expected, granted the first database to Florida-based Spectrum Bridge, who recently completed a set of trials intended to prove the company had the capacity, and the capability, to run such a thing. Those trials didn't go perfectly, and the FCC expects Spectrum Bridge to address the remaining issues ahead of the launch, but come the end of January it will be legal to deploy White Space devices in at least one part of the USA.
Not that there are any White Space devices just yet, but Spectrum Bridge is poised to announce deals with manufacturers, including one or two from the UK. White Space devices are required to sense their location and then obtain from an online database a list of locally available frequencies within the TV broadcasts bands. Manufacturers are expected to sign deals with databases to provide that information for the life of the device, so getting an operational database is a necessary precursor to any White Space deployments.
Those manufacturers have been clear that they want more than one database too, to ensure competitive pressure. So the FCC has almost a dozen companies signed up (including both Google and Microsoft) to become database suppliers, providing identical information and differentiating through additional services, but Spectrum Bridge has pushed ahead to become the world's first.
Despite that, the company isn't expecting an immediate rush of deployments. The big manufacturers won't get involved until all the standards are in place and the protocols properly tested, so there's an opportunity for smaller players to gain a first-mover advantage. Even the communication between the database and the device isn't standard yet, the IETF is working on it, so devices wanting multiple options will have to speak multiple protocols.
But Spectrum Bridge is well aware that manufacturers will only want to deal with half a dozen companies globally, and once the big players get off the blocks then a specialist like Spectrum Bridge will have to make sure its footholds are solid. Which is why the company is already sharing UK White Space data on its web site, in preparation for Ofcom following the FCC's lead.
The FCC award also only covers Wilmington, for the moment at least, so while it will allow commercial sale and use of White Space radios don't expect to see them in Best Buy just yet.
But that will happen, and probably within the next year, though it might be Christmas 2013 before they're the must-have gift of the season. As the other databases come on line, and large-scale manufacturing ramps up, White Space has the potential to provide huge amounts of connectivity, and (if it all works) it could fundamentally change the way we think about radio licensing.
The use of dynamically allocated spectrum has potential way beyond spaces left by the inefficiency of television broadcasting. Spectrum Bridge is already eyeing up frequencies used by directional radar (which is only used intermittently even where it is used), and reckons that the emergency services can always wait five minutes for a band to be cleared around a scene. This is the first step on a long road to dynamic frequency allocation across the radio spectrum. ®