The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week unanimously approved an order to make the white space portion of the television broadcast spectrum available for public use in wireless networks. Not only is the move the first major release of unlicensed spectrum by the FCC in nearly 25 years, but in the FCC's estimation, it could pave the way for wireless networks that can transmit data farther and more robustly, plus provide wireless to underserved coverage areas and alleviate wireless dead zones.
But the FCC's ruling -- announced Thursday and six years after the FCC first proposed the idea -- raises more questions than answers, say wireless VARs. The release of a spectrum that's more than six decades old is unto itself an event, but it's effect on the wireless landscape in the short-term will be minimal, especially with so many issues still to address.
For example, will the spectrum transmit one-way or two-way? If it's positioned alongside the existing Wi-Fi spectrum, are both spectrums then needed? What about power consumption, especially for devices that could support both Wi-Fi and so-called "Wi-Fi on steroids"?
It's all very interesting, said Gary Berzack, CTO and COO of eTribeca, a New York-based solution provider, but if vendors are serious about building devices to support the opened spectrum, they need to be clear about expectations and how they expect those devices to fit alongside existing Wi-Fi devices.
"How quickly will the majors come to market?" asked Berzack. "And, say it's launched it as a fully-baked product inside the Intel chipset, on Dell or HP platforms, for example. Well, what about the billion other Wi-Fi devices that are already there and are already integrated?"
Google, Dell, Microsoft and Motorola are among the major tech vendors that pushed hard for the FCC's decision, and several wireless vendors voiced their support of it Thursday. In a statement to CRN, Aruba Networks Founder and CTO Keerti Melkote said the move "will drive a great deal of innovation in the wireless space" and that "TV whitespace as unlicensed spectrum promises to change the game in network access in ways that benefit consumers."
Wireless solution providers interviewed by CRN this week said it would be incumbent upon VARs, however, to answer the "Big Why" -- that is, how should customers view the spectrum release and will they need to invest in it, not to mention how will they invest in it.
"It would be nice now if the channel community were held in consultation with the OEMs and the majors," Berzack said. "We're the ones who get the 'Big Why' question from customers: 'Why do I need this?' 'Why do I need it now?' I don't feel comfortable giving an answer other than watch the white space. From an integrator's perspective, I've got nothing to sell or support here."
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