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Google-backed smart grid now on TV 'white space'

Idea lobbied by Dell, Microsoft, and others for FCC to allow unused broadcast TV channels for super Wi-Fi comes to fruition for smart grid in Calif.

The smart grid for Plumas-Sierra County, Calif., is now operating via the television broadcasting system's "white space," software and service supplier Spectrum Bridge announced Wednesday.

The TV white space spectrum is the portion of unused broadcast TV channels that became available with the national switch from analog to digital TV broadcasting.

The space is prized because it can provide a venue for data exchange rates significantly faster than the current standard Internet Wi-Fi, and can be broadcast for extended distances and through obstacles, making it ideal for use in smart grid communications.

For years, Dell, Google, Microsoft, Motorola, and others lobbied the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to open up the space for general use once it became available due to the switch from analog to digital TV broadcasting in February 2009. After extensive testing for possible interference with existing telecommunications services, the FCC unanimously agreed in November 2008 to make 300MHz to 400MHz of unused spectrum, aka TV "white space," available for unlicensed use after the analog-to-digital switch took place.

At the time, a myriad of ideas for using the newly available "Wi-Fi on steroids" space were floated, including new types of wireless broadband services and augmenting existing wireless services.

Now it seems that space in Plumas-Sierra County is being used for smart grid communication through a partnership involving Google, Spectrum Bridge, and the Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative & Telecommunications (PSREC) utility.

"Plumas, Lassen, and Sierra Counties are located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and present some very technical challenges with respect to wireless coverage. The ability to use White Space has proven to be an effective option for dealing with difficult terrain and offers another option for wireless connectivity," Lori Rice, chief operating officer at PSREC, said in a statement.

Spectrum Bridge has been an active participant in a series of test networks for determining ways to utilize the FCC-sanctioned TV white space without interfering with existing broadcasts.

In this particular instance, the smart grid communications will not interfere with other local uses of the white space, because it's linked with a "smart" TV White Spaces database developed by Spectrum Bridge.

"This database dynamically assigns non-interfering frequencies to white spaces devices, and adapts in real-time to new TV broadcasts, as well as other protected TV band users operating in the area," Spectrum Bridge said in a statement.

The smart grid network is also using Google's PowerMeter technology, a Web-accessible monitoring tool for consumers that offers real-time usage data of energy use and remote control of individual smart appliances.