No sooner does Google exit the FCC’s 700Mhz spectrum auction with its $4.6 billion still in its pocket and its rules imposed on its competitors than it throws up yet another ball in the broadband wireless game. Earlier today, it proposed to the FCC that the unused “white spaces” in television broadcast signals which will be freed up as a result of the transition to digital TV should be converted into unlicensed spectrum for long-distance wireless broadband applications. This spectrum could become a “Wifi 2.0”—free, unlicensed, and able to reach much farther than WiFi can today.
The white spaces Google is talking about are parts of the television spectrum that offered extra headroom for channels 2 to 51. Since digital TV signals are more efficient than analog signals, that buffer will no longer be necessary after February, 2009 (when the conversion to digital sets is mandated in the U.S.). So what to do with the extra spectrum? Google is saying give it away and see what happens.
That is not a bad idea. Look at what happened with WiFi. It became so popular and useful precisely because nobody had to bid billions of dollars just for the right to build out a network. Also, it is not clear how much the government would be able to raise even if it did try to auction off the white space. The spectrum is not as clean as the (separate) 700 MHz spectrum that was just auctioned off for $19.6 billion. There are more interference issues. But Google and other tech companies, including Dell and Microsoft, argue that those issues can be solved more or less.
Why can’t Google make up its mind on which wireless technology it wants to go with? Diversity, actually, is the point. It wants to do everything it can to usher in an era of wireless broadband Internet services—on existing mobile networks, on next-generation mobile networks built on the 700 MHz spectrum, on unlicensed WiFi 2.0 networks, on WiMax networks, on everything. (In fact, with recent rumors surfacing again that Sprint and ClearWire are in talks to merge their WiMax networks but are looking for investors—Intel is supposedly not interested—maybe Google will take some of the $4.6 billion it didn’t have to spend on the 700MHz spectrum to prop up that deal—although WiMax has its own technical issues).
Google also wants as many companies as possible to build Android phones and wireless devices for as many of those networks as possible so that even more people can search the Web and use Google applications when they are not sitting in front of their computers.
Keep your eye on the bouncing balls.
(Photo by SideLong).