Mobile Internet: The Opportunity of 'White Spaces'

Next Generation Communications Blog

Mobile Internet: The Opportunity of 'White Spaces'

By Mae Kowalke

After analog TV broadcasting in the U.S. was converted over to digital in 2009 as directed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the freed-up spectrum, referred to as “white spaces” became available for free, unlicensed use.

This change opened up a big opportunity for just about anyone to become a provider of Wi-Fi-like wireless services for commercial and retail customers. Existing operators are likely to face increasing competition from new providers.

It also means a big opportunity for suppliers of wireless equipment and auxiliary services like billing.

“The white spaces wireless equipment market should see, in the not-too-distant future, increased volumes, pricing pressures, and rapid technological obsolescence similar to the Wi-Fi market,” Alcatel-Lucent predicted in a white paper, White Spaces and Mobile Communications.

“Unlike the Wi-Fi market, the white spaces market will most likely expand the need for supplier expertise and services for new equipment support, distribution methodology, and customer billing and payment systems.”

Alcatel-Lucent quoted figures from Microsoft, estimating that the market is worth $100 billion in equipment and application revenues.

Equipment needed to deliver services using the white spaces spectrum include portable radio devices and access points, fixed base stations, and wireless microphones.

Because of market dynamics, including development of new technologies like 4G LTE, the timing of this spectrum becoming available is especially advantageous for suppliers. Alcatel-Lucent said most analysts predict that, by 2014, 75 percent or more of all mobile phones sold in the U.S. will be smartphones. With this increase will come even more demand for wireless bandwidth.

“The average smartphone today uses 50 times the bandwidth than normal devices, making a wireless data tsunami nearly inevitable,” Alcatel-Lucent predicts. “New technologies such as LTE, and additional licensed spectrum will only reduce the pain but cannot solve the problem.”

The white spaces will help fill that gap. With foresight into how this will all play out, movers-and-shakers in the industry are now positioning themselves to take advantage of the emerging opportunities for mobile communications services; devices, software and access platforms; and application-specific services for utilizing the white spaces spectrum.

“Google is lobbying to become the database administrator, and major players have started to develop products,” Alcatel-Lucent noted in its white paper. “Two major alliances, Cognea and Microsoft-Dell-Google, have already been formed to establish standards and a full white spaces ecosystem. Therefore, it seems highly likely that a rich, full ecosystem of service providers and product vendors could grow at least as quickly as it did for Wi-Fi.”

Alcatel-Lucent’s vision for the white spaces spectrum is a cloud architecture, built on emerging IEEE standards, that ensures seamless wireless coverage. This vision includes three main use cases: 3G/4G offloading, a network infrastructure for smart city applications, and delivery of low-ARPU mobile Internet broadband services to rural areas.


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