An In-depth Look: White Space Technology

What is White Space Technology?

White spaces are basically unused TV frequencies that are used as buffers to prevent interferences between multiple channels in use.  It is sometimes referred to as the “internet of things” because of the significant potential it can deliver for advancing society, ranging from healthcare to agriculture to public infrastructure.

How can white spaces be used?

White space technology is being touted as an alternative way to get wireless broadband Internet access.  It would be similar to Wi-Fi, but it can reach much longer distances. Their frequencies can vary, but devices such as mobile phones and tablets could use the free spectrum when and where they are available for use.

Why should I care about white space technology?

This technology can be used to provide Internet access to places that would otherwise lack connectivity, such as in rural areas.  Technologists have already experimented with white spaces in rural, far-flung areas of the United States, such as in North Carolina and Virginia.  Telecommunications regulator Ofcom recently announced the launch of an ambitious project to test out this technology throughout the United Kingdom, the first project of its kind in Europe.  White space technology also makes Internet access inexpensive.

Is white space technology being used in the developing world?

Microsoft has already embarked on several projects to bring this technology into many countries in Africa and Asia.  Microsoft announced in February that it was collaborating with the Kenyan government to deliver affordable, solar-powered broadband access through white space technology.  The company has also partnered with the South African government to provide low-cost broadband to the majority of South Africans by 2020.  The project is part of Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative, which is aimed at accelerating economic development on the continent.  Microsoft is also working with the Philippine government to use white space to improve registration methods for people fishing in the Danajon Reef Marine Key Biodiversity Area in Bohol.  This effort would support economic development in the fisheries sector.  Google is also working on a white space trial in South Africa.

Can white space technology have a negative impact on society?

None whatsoever, so far.  Who could really be against providing low-cost, high speed Internet access to those who would otherwise not be able to access it?  While most major telecommunications regulators have determined that white spaces could be used for unlicensed wireless broadband without having a negative impact on broadcast TV signals, this is not to say that private Internet providers won’t seek to have white spaces regulated in the future.  In many countries around the world, and especially in the United States, broadband access is very expensive because access to it is controlled by a monopoly of Internet providers.  White space technology and the sheer inexpense to produce it could possibly be seen as potential threat to this monopoly.

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