An analysis of early white space network success stories and their future implications ..










I have covered white space networks before (Opportunities and challenges of white space applications)  and white space networks are a part of my PhD research (Optimising resilience of remote monitoring medical devices over white space networks).  Hence, it was good to speak to Peter Stanforth – CTO of Spectrum bridge– and many thanks to Bob Geller of fusionPR for making the connection.

White space has often been described as ‘WiFi on steroids’ and when treated as a technology similar to WiFi, anyone can deploy it (including existing network operators). Hence, white space complements existing networking technology (like WiFi  and Bluetooth) and will lead to new use cases for both incumbents and new entrants.  Having progressed beyond initial trials, White space networks are in the news . For instance, city of Wilmington north carolina government  will use white space radio for backhaul for wireless access points in two public parks and to set up four cameras to monitor a public garden.

There are two areas where white space networks will make an immediate impact:  Rural (or underserved) areas where there is currently no good coverage and M2M (Machine to machine) networks.  I was interested in understanding the deeper significance of white space networks and how they would impact our lives.  This was the motivation of my talk with Spectrum bridge and also of this blog post. Spectrum Bridge aims to empower the wireless Internet by improving the availability, access and allocation of wireless spectrum. It offers a software platform that manages available bandwidth in real-time for licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

So, if we approach the question from a services standpoint, then what are the possibilities?

Yochai Benkler has an excellent working paper on white space networks  which is a MUST read if you are interested in the truly transformative possibilities of white space networks.  Over time, I expect that white space networks will be ubiquitous and also will be transparently supported by devices and laptops (just like WIFi technology is today) – so I expect customers will not concern themselves with what technology their service uses. However, if you want to currently find out about white space technologies then we have white space network databases for the UK and for white space network databases for the USA (see my previous post on white space technology overview to explain the significance of white space databases).

So, getting back to how white space networks will impact our lives (i.e. white space network based services) I discussed the TV white space success stories with Peter. Specifically:

-      Logan, Ohio Google and Spectrum Bridge, Inc., together with the Hocking Valley Community Hospital announced the deployment of the first TV White Spaces broadband trial network for healthcare providers in Logan, Ohio.

-      Plumas-Sierra County - Spectrum Bridge, in partnership with Plumas-Sierra Electric Cooperative and Google, launched the nation’s first “SmartGrid” wireless network trial, utilizing TV White Spaces spectrum.

-      Wilmington, NC - Spectrum Bridge’s “Smart City” solution is able to access available TV White Spaces spectrum and manage the deployed “Smart City” network by dynamically assigning non-interfering frequencies to White Spaces devices throughout the service area to effectively provide bandwidth where and when it’s needed.

So, I wanted to understand the wider significance of these case studies and also their current limitations.

These are my notes:

a)      For smart cities – (see my interest in smart cities – and apps for smart cities) – Is the white space network technology currently confined to cities with existing coverage problems? Yes, currently that is the main use case.  The key is that white space is Non Line Of Sight (NLOS) technology so anywhere that WiFi struggles, white space will succeed. There are various studies that put white space at between 3 and 5 times the coverage of current WiFi. Also, adding more spectrum is like adding more lanes to the highway so even if LOS is not an issue more capacity is good.

b)      For the Hocking Valley Community Hospital application, there was a specific use case related to emergency vehicles : In addition to indoor/outdoor broadband access, a portable TV White Spaces network was also deployed for Hocking County Emergency Medical Services. This network allows emergency vehicles to wirelessly transfer data directly from EMS vehicles located at the hospital campus, to EMS data systems.

Peter explained this as follows: The ambulance associates with the hospital network about 1/2 mile away allowing patient data to be sent ahead of the arrival. They also use White Space to extend the hospital network to satellite offices, local doctors and consultants and into the wider ecosystem around the hospital campus

c)        Same for smart grid (i.e. not accessible area in -Plumas-Sierra County) : Hence I had the same question: – What is the wider use case for any smart grid scenario (in future) with increasing use cases of white space? In this case, the propagation is the key. Getting reliable access to meters, switching equipment and other sensors is increased through better propagation of white space networks and in addition the lower cost of the white space radio makes a difference (See the significance of Neul’s work in this space with emphasis on capacity, cost, power consumption, range and size for white space networks)

So, what is the insight at this stage?

White space networks have some unique characteristics and enable some interesting use cases both for broadband access and M2M networks.

Over time, I expect many disruptive applications to emerge purely due to the availability of networks i.e. access enabled by white space networks more cheaply. We will also see a more complex use of spectrum. So far, spectrum access has been archaic, expensive and inefficiently managed.  Spectrum is a common / public resource. Currently, countries allocate spectrum to specific companies (Operators). In developing the spectrum, Operators are expected to enable the public good and to develop an ecosystem. Today, we see an exponential growth in demand and this is impacting the old way of ‘pre-allocating’ spectrum. So, I expect that we will come back to the idea of a more shared/dynamic allocation of spectrum over time – leading to new growth, innovation and applications.

To see the wider impact of this discussion, don’t forget to see Yochai Benkler’s excellent working paper on white space networks  which reviews evidence from eight wireless markets: mobile broadband; wireless healthcare; smart grid communications; inventory management; access control; mobile payments; fleet management; and secondary markets in spectrum.  He finds  that markets are adopting unlicensed wireless strategies in mission-critical applications, in many cases more so than they are building on licensed strategies.

I will do a follow-on blog on these areas and also a specific post about the benkler paper