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Unlicensed whitespace frequencies could revolutionize wireless networks, experts say

  • Date 22 Apr 2010

New report offers inside perspectives from industry leaders on the impact of whitespace radio, discussing market opportunities and new wireless products and services  

Cambridge, MA & Cambridge UK – April 20, 2010 – Watching YouTube on your living room TV while surfing the web at home – all courtesy of your favorite coffee chain’s wireless network.  This is the not-too-distant future thanks to a world with whitespace, according to a new report released by Cambridge Consultants.  The report offers rare insight based on a collection of experts from across the wireless industry.  Including companies such as Google, Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Philips, Nokia and CSR, the report discusses the potential $100B US market  for wireless technologies enabled by whitespace frequencies.

The report, ‘Whitespace: a revolution in wireless communications?’, looks at how the highly desirable TV band whitespace could fundamentally change today’s wireless provider model while spotlighting technology hurdles that will limit immediate disruption.  The new whitespace frequencies, recently authorized in the US by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), greatly increase the global wireless bandwidth available to computers, set top boxes, laptops, WiFi hot spots and other radio devices that currently use the unlicensed bands around at 2.4 and 5 GHz.

Consensus from the report states that new wireless devices will soon emerge taking advantage of the increased range and wall-penetrating ability of the newly allotted band. These devices will allow existing providers to take on the growing demand, by supplementing traditional cellular networks.  In addition they may open up the market for disruptive new entrants – potentially allowing existing WiFi hotspot providers, major coffee chains, for example, to offer paying customers free internet connection that is not just restricted by their shop, but extending across a wide area thereby creating a low cost wireless broadband capability in some urban environments.  The data crunch has already begun. 

According to recent data from comScore, smart phone ownership in the US increased from 11 percent to 17 percent in 2009.   That rate is projected to skyrocket as the market for always-on wireless devices, such as Google’s Nexus One or Apple’s iPad, continues to grow. Cisco estimates that by 2014 global data traffic will increase 39 times, reaching 3.6 exabytes, or 3.6 billion gigabytes per month.   In terms of mobile data usage, Ericsson reported in December 2009 that for the first time mobile data traffic has overtaken voice, with a 280% increase in the last two years.  Meanwhile the unlicensed band could allow for a new approach that challenges traditional models for spectrum usage, opening up new entrants to the wireless broadband market, spurring competition and vastly increasing market potential.

“The current, static method of dividing up spectrum is inefficient and increasingly unaffordable.  Meanwhile, it should come as no surprise that the current wireless networks are creaking,” said Luke D’Arcy, head of cognitive radio at Cambridge Consultants.  “Existing cellular networks, based on 2.5G and 3G technology, will certainly not be able to meet forecast demand for wireless data.  Next generation networks such as LTE technology (Long Term Evolution) will help in the short term, but through initiatives such as whitespace radio, unlicensed spectrum can also play a major role.”

The industry leaders, who gathered at a recent Cambridge Consultants hosted working session, agreed that there have been technological hurdles to new devices, with companies struggling initially to design devices that find free spectrum in the TV band without interfering with wireless microphones or TV signals.  However, the group noted that a move by the FCC to set up an on-line database of available frequencies makes the technical implementation much easier, opening the door to practical devices.

The report concludes that, though opposed to whitespace radio due to interference issues, the wireless microphone industry stands to gain in terms of market disruption, while noting that unlicensed networks based on whitespace radio could seriously rival cellular networks for coverage in urban areas.  Meanwhile, the report also concludes that the widespread adoption of whitespace could radically reduce the number of access points needed to service advertising-based municipal wireless networks, drastically reducing the cost of free public wireless internet for towns and cities.  Can I get you an espresso with free internet connection to go?

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