Google proposes Android as a 'white spaces' platform
Google is already on record as a proponent of devices that make use of empty TV broadcast space for wireless data services. Now in a proposal to the FCC, the company admits it could put its Android platform to use for that purpose.
Bucking strong opposition from the National Association of Broadcasters, Google has sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission arguing for use of its proposed "Android" platform in controversial activities around making "white space" -- or unused airwaves -- available for wireless online access across the US.
"As Google has pointed out previously, the vast majority of viable spectrum in this country simply goes unused, or else is grossly under-utilized. Unlike other natural resources, there is no benefit to allowing this spectrum to lie fallow," wrote Richard Whitt, general counsel at Google.
Whitt proposed the use of Android -- an open source platform which will potentially compete with Microsoft's Windows Mobile, whose SDK was updated last month -- as an affordable approach to wireless access within the white spaces.
"Coupled with the 'Android' open source platform for mobile consumer devices, TV white spaces can provide uniquely low-cost mobile broadband coverage for all Americans," wrote Whitt. "As announced last fall, over thirty other companies are working with Google through the Open Handset Alliance to develop a fully open source software stack, including the operating system, middleware, and user applications. Android-powered handsets should begin appearing commercially later this year, and would be an excellent match for the TV white space."
Now, Google "also would be willing to provide, at no cost to third parties, the technical support necessary to make these plans happen," added Google's general counsel. "This could include intellectual property and reference designs for underlying technologies, open geo-databases maintained by Google, and other supporting infrastructure. Of course we welcome others as well with an interest in helping to provide such support."
Whitt's Android white-spaces proposal comes less than six weeks after the release of a written statement by Microsoft -- one of Google's allies in the White Space Coalition and its sister group, the Wireless Innovation Alliance -- admitting that one of two devices designed and made by Microsoft's partner Metric Systems Corp. for use in white spaces had "experienced an apparent power issue."
"Testing at the FCC will continue with the primary Microsoft device and we are committed to providing the Commission with any further assistance it needs to complete testing successfully. We remain confident in the technology and look forward to the conclusion of the FCC's testing process which will expand broadband Internet access in underserved areas and enable a new wave of broadband devices and services," according to a Microsoft statement to BetaNews.
Meanwhile, the NAB is trumpeting its concerns that use of white space for wireless access will interfere with TV broadcasting signals.
In January, the NAB released the text of its own letter to the FCC, in which the broadcasting industry group responded to a claim from the Wireless Industry Alliance that the NAB had engineered a "misinformation campaign" about the introduction of devices that would operate in the unlicensed "white spaces" spectrum.
"In July , a report by the FCC concluded that sample prototype 'white space' devices did not accurately detect broadcast signals and caused interference to TV broadcasting and wireless microphones," according to the letter from NAB President David K. Rehr.
Rehr's letter also listed the names of 70 lawmakers who have "expressed concern over the use of licensed personal-portable devices in the wireless spectrum."
Google, however, regards the white space available to itself and its partners as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide ubiquitous wireless broadband access to all Americans," according to Whitt's missive.
To help protect against interference, Whitt argued for combining "spectrum sensing" with two technologies previously proposed to the FCC by Motorola: geo-location for safeguarding broadcast TV, and beacons for wireless microphones.
Aside from Google and Microsoft, other major vendors belonging to the 24-member Wireless Innovation Alliance include Hewlett-Packard and Dell. The eight members of the White Spaces Coalition, on the other hand, include Google, Microsoft, HP, Dell, Intel, Philips, Earthlink, and Samsung.
6:35 pm EDT March 24, 2008 - In a busy day for the National Association of Broadcasters, its executive vice president, Dennis Wharton, renewed his group's opposition to the concept of white space devices, and specifically responded to Google's latest interpretation of them.
"We are pleased that Google now seems to realize that spectrum sensing alone won't protect viewers against interference from unlicensed devices," Wharton stated. "Unfortunately, simply adding geolocation and beacon sensing does not mean that mobile operation is suddenly feasible. Portable, mobile personal device operation in the same band as TV broadcasting continues to be a guaranteed recipe for producing interference and should not be allowed under any circumstances."