FCC chairman, Page talk 'white spaces'

FCC chairman Kevin Martin and Google co-founder Larry Page talked about using white spaces to stream data wirelessly during a conference.

Silicon Valley is home to a lot of strange bedfellows, whether hard-nosed venture capitalists and Web 2.0 dreamers or bottom-line hardware tycoons and arty device designers. The odd couple on stage Thursday at the Wireless Communications Association International conference on Thursday, one in a blue suit and red power tie and the other in jeans, T-shirt and casual blazer, could stand with the best of them.

Kevin Martin, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, and Larry Page, co-founder and president of products at Google, appeared at a packed general session of the wireless broadband convention and later took questions from the media -- and a lot of onlookers -- in a small meeting room.

What brought them together was something critics consider even more incongruous: Wireless data streaming over the so-called "white spaces" of unused spectrum between TV stations. Broadcasters have spent years fighting efforts by Google, Microsoft and others to gain FCC approval for the practice, saying it would interfere with consumers' TV reception and the use of wireless microphones. Page and other supporters say technology can prevent that and open up a valuable new form of high-speed Internet access.

On Tuesday, the FCC approved a set of rules for unlicensed white-space wireless. Though critics have vowed to keep fighting, Martin and Page were optimistic cheerleaders for the initiative two days after the vote.

Answering questions on stage from WCAI President and CEO Fred Campbell, they said open networks and better use of spectrum can help to bring Internet access to more people in the U.S. and abroad.

Page likened white-spaces technology to Wi-Fi, which apparently is the only kind of network his employees use anymore.

"We have Ethernet cables, but they don't even plug them in, because Wi-Fi's so good that there's no point," Page said. The idea is that Wi-Fi's ubiquity has driven its price down over the years, which in turn has made it more ubiquitous. Page thinks radios that use the broadcasting white spaces will follow the same trajectory.

Soon, he expects all phones and laptops to have white-spaces connectivity, and for chips to fall to the current Wi-Fi price of about US$5 each. But in addition, the white-spaces frequencies allow for longer range and fewer base stations, which will make it less expensive to deploy than Wi-Fi, he said. Devices that support the technology may hit the market in as little as 18 months, Page said.

Speaking to reporters afterward, the two men reflected on their relatively recent cooperation. Google, founded in 1998, didn't even have a lobbying office in Washington, D.C., until 2005. Martin, a former lawyer for George W. Bush's 2000 campaign who is sometimes called "Harry Potter" for his wire-rim glasses and boyish looks, sat on a table sipping coffee while the taller Page leaned back drinking bottled water. Martin's rapid-fire delivery contrasted with Page's casual musings.

Google has actually been working on the white-spaces concept for about six years, according to Page. A team of two engineers was the "tiny little pumpkin" that grew into a project big enough to bring one of the company's founders together with the nation's top communications regulator.

"We have a small group who was working on interesting wireless ideas and they got really excited about this, and that's how we got into it," Page said.

Martin and Page have had a meeting of minds partly because of a professed shared interest in opening up wireless networks. In the white-spaces initiative, Google was a key advocate of using geolocation to determine whether a white-spaces device is in a place where it could conflict with other spectrum users, according to Martin. Location information can then be checked against a database of broadcasters and their coverage areas.

"Their involvement in helping us address how we're going to solve some of the interference concerns in the white spaces was critical," Martin said.

But Martin said Google's demands for open-network requirements in the FCC's 700MHz spectrum auctions earlier this year also helped bring about a sea change in the mobile industry, away from "walled gardens" of carrier-provided devices and applications to networks that allow any device and any service. It's a shift Martin said he welcomes.

"Within a relatively short amount of time -- a little over a year -- you've seen a transformation in the direction of wireless," Martin said.

Google was able to exert pressure on the FCC to change the auction rules even though the company didn't actually end up with the winning bid on any licenses.

"We actually owned some 700MHz spectrum for one weekend," Page quipped. "It was a long weekend."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags wireless spectrumwhite spaces

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments


James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >




Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?