TV White Spaces: It’s More Than Wireless Mics

5/15/2013 7:11:00 PM
By Tim Kridel
If your organization uses wireless mics, you’re probably familiar—maybe more than you want to be—with TV white spaces (TVWS), which are unused and lightly-used slivers of spectrum between TV channels. InfoComm and mic vendors such as Shure have plenty of white papers and other collateral for helping technology managers with issues such as FCC registration.

But it’s time to start considering TVWS as a way to connect AV and IT gear, such as video surveillance backhaul and uploading content to digital signage networks. One reason is because the number of trials and limited deployments has increased sharply over the past year. Another reason is because IT giants such as Microsoft and Google continue to back it publicly through trials and applying to serve as database administrators. AV vendors frequently follow the IT world’s lead when deciding which technologies to build into their products.

TVWS is still many years and hurdles away from being as ubiquitous as, say, Wi-Fi, let alone something that AV and IT vendors feel comfortable embedding into their products versus providing as a dongle-style option. But in the short term, it’s emerging as a way to get broadband to devices where copper, fiber, or 4G/LTE cellular is unavailable or expensive.

Initially TVWS could be a viable option for rural areas, such as extending videoconferencing, telehealth, and other bandwidth-intensive services to telecommuters, field offices, and schools there. Part of the reason is because there are fewer TV stations and other services that TVWS devices have to work around.

Another reason is because telcos, cable operators, and other ISPs know that there’s a healthy rural market for broadband, but serving those businesses and homes is cost-prohibitive with copper and fiber. TVWS network infrastructure and customer premise equipment is already close in price to established broadband wireless products such as Canopy. As TVWS gear builds sales volumes over the next couple of years, it will start to descend the cost curve into territory where it becomes interesting to ISPs, including rural utility companies that are or hope to get into the broadband business. Success—or lack thereof—in the rural market will influence whether and how TVWS is used in suburban and urban areas.

Finally, keep in mind that TVWS is just one implementation of WS. It’s almost guaranteed that the databases, sensing technologies and regulatory framework will be applied to other bands simply because there’s far more demand for spectrum than governments can accommodate. One indication is the amount of defense contractors that are interested in TVWS, probably because regulators will cede to pressure to allow spectrum sharing in bands that currently are the exclusive domain of government users. That’s one more example of how TVWS has enough regulatory and marketplace momentum that it’s something that technology managers should keep an eye on.

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