Google outlines proposal for 'Wi-Fi on steroids'

New plan designed to persuade regulators to free up unused TV spectrum known as "white spaces" for high-bandwidth, affordable, ubiquitous wireless Internet services.

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
3 min read

Google on Monday said it has a plan to have American consumers from Manhattan to rural North Dakota surfing the Web on handheld gadgets at gigabits-per-second speeds by the 2009 holiday season.

The company, joined by other heavyweights like Microsoft and Dell, has long been lobbying for the Federal Communications Commission to free up unused broadcast TV channels known as "white spaces" for unlicensed use by personal devices. That portion of the TV band is highly prized because it can propagate long distances and through obstacles.

It also possesses the bandwidth to support vastly faster data rates than today's standard Internet service offerings--"Wi-Fi on steroids" or "Wi-Fi 2.0," as Richard Whitt, Google's telecommunications counsel, put it in a Monday morning conference call.

In a renewed effort to get the FCC on board with the idea, Google filed a six-page letter late on Friday that attempts to erase lingering concerns from TV broadcasters and microphone manufacturers about harmful interference caused by the entry of new devices.

"We're doing this because we want everybody to be satisfied with this process," Whitt said. "We think it's the right time to put these ideas in the record and see where they go."

Google isn't interested in becoming a wireless service provider or building a network of its own, Whitt said. It does, however, envision the white spaces as a "unique opportunity to provide ubiquitous wireless access for all Americans" and a prime spot for use of mobile handsets running its open-source Android platform. Google hopes to start rolling out Android devices, which are being developed in conjunction with a 34-company consortium, as soon as summer or fall of this year, Whitt said.

Even if the FCC signs off, the offerings wouldn't be immediate. The spectrum won't be ready for use until at least February 2009, when over-the-air broadcasters are required to vacate that band as part of the congressionally mandated shift to all-digital television.

The FCC also isn't expected to issue any rules for use of the spectrum for another several months, Whitt said. Agency engineers are still testing early-stage devices submitted by Microsoft and Phillips for interference issues.

Avoiding interference
In hopes of nudging that process in its favor, Google's new filing describes a multipronged approach aimed at avoiding interference. Building upon suggestions made in a filing by Motorola last fall, it said any new unlicensed TV white-spaces devices would be blocked from transmitting signals unless they had received a sort of "permission to transmit" message. Wireless microphones could also be outfitted with "inexpensive" beacons that would send out a signal to white-spaces devices that says " don't come here," by Whitt's description.

In addition, Google proposes setting up a "safe harbor," between channels 36 and 38, where unlicensed white-space devices would not be allowed to operate, but wireless microphones and other licensed devices would. It also urges the FCC not to discount the promise of "spectrum-sensing" technologies, which, for example, are supported by 802.11a-based Wi-Fi to protect military radars from interference.

Google also offered to provide no-cost "technical support" to third parties hoping to use the white spaces, should they be opened up.

Even if the regulators ultimately approve use of the white spaces, "no product will come to market unless the FCC can verify that the device does not interfere with TV or wireless microphone signals," Whitt said.

Representatives from the National Association of Broadcasters and wireless microphone manufacturers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Google's renewed white-spaces push comes just days after the FCC ended an auction of the remaining portion of the 700MHz broadcast TV spectrum that's being vacated for the digital switch next year. The company had been active in the event, lobbying beforehand for "open-access" conditions allowing consumers to attach whatever devices or run whatever applications they please.

The search giant had committed to bidding $4.6 billion for the "open-access" spectrum block, but last week, the FCC announced that it was Verizon Wireless, not Google, that had won those licenses.

Whitt said he couldn't say the proposal had nothing to do with the auction results, but because of FCC rules, he isn't able to comment further on Google's involvement in the auction until the end of next week.