The Race to White Space: Google’s New White Space Frequency Test

by Jennifer Cuellar

Certain radio frequencies around the country are dedicated towards local use, but these frequencies are not always used up. These gaps in the spectrum are called “white spaces,” and there are many, including Google, who feel that these frequencies can be used to broadcast WiFi Internet connections.

Currently, Google is testing this idea out in South Africa’s urban and rural areas, with hopes that a successful test could sway the opinions of the FCC regulators back home.

While the benefits of increased Internet connectivity are obvious, the potential problems that they could cause are potentially disastrous. For instance, broadcasted WiFi could interfere with already existing radio waves, which are used for everything from emergency communications, to television, to music. If there is interference, neither service would work, which could become extremely problematic. However, the tests in South Africa could show how much interference would realistically exist.


Tests in South Africa


Using the gaps in the white space between TV channels, Google has begun broadcasting wireless broadband Internet to 10 schools in Cape Town, South Africa. This trial aims to demonstrate that wireless communications can be run in this radio spectrum without interfering with already existing users in the same band. Since the signals are at such a low radio frequency, they are able to cover relatively long ranges, with strong indoor penetration.

Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, public policy manager for Google South Africa, claims that "White space has the advantage that low frequency signals can travel longer distances." The 6-month long tests are being conducted in densely populated areas, which would provide good information for how likely Google’s signals are to interfere.


VoIP and White Space


By pairing internet technology with phone services, broadcasting an Internet connection over the white space could potentially make both Internet and phone free services. Many people are already switching from traditional phone systems to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones, which use the Internet to make and receive phone calls.

By avoiding the use of landlines, VoIP phone calls are much less expensive and far more efficient. As long as there is an internet connection, VoIP calls can be made. One of the only barriers to residential VoIP being more popular is that not everyone has Internet, but if it were broadcasted, this problem would be solved. Google’s plans to expand Internet access with white space not other increases the expansion of cheap Internet access, but cheap VoIP phone service as well.

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