Government starts the ball rolling to approve unlicenced devices to use vacant spectrum between TV channels. Some believe it will help bring broadband to rural areas

Canada closer to unlicenced

Following the lead of the United States, Industry Canada has agreed to allow unlicenced devices to use the so-called white space spectrum between television channels for unlicenced broadband uses.

The decision  brings closer dreams of super-WiFi-type networks that cover hundreds of kilometers with one antenna.

It would ideal for bringing high-speed Internet access to remote communities, boosting wireless broadband within businesses and homes or for offloading traffic from crowded cellular networks, as Wi-Fi does now.

However, it will depend on how fast the network and TV white space (TVWS) device makers move to create an infrastructure to exploit the opportunity. It is hoped equipment makers will see this as a mass market opportunity, which would lower the cost of operator equipment and end-user devices such as modems and wireless access points.

There will be “ground-breaking changes” in communications when the ecosystem gets going, predicts Ivan Reede, Quebec-based vice-chairman of the WhiteSpace Alliance, a group promoting the technology.

“We see the trillion-dollar market that was generated by the coming together of the 2.4 and 5.8GHz bands for WiFi, and we see that kind of potential for the white spaces.”

Reede, who is also president of Amerisys Inc., which makes custom physical security and access control systems, sees white space technology helping bring Internet to remote areas where wired networks are too expansive.

According to a news report, in the U.S. a number of pilot white space projects may be launched there early next year including one dubbed AIR.U, aimed at delivering 100 Mbps broadband to underserved colleges.

Canadian telecom analyst Mark Goldberg said white space technology is still in the early stages, although it will run in attractive spectrum.

“There are promising opportunities,” he said.

Industry Canada’s decision covers five frequency bands below 689 MHz

The government isn’t a newcomer to this space. Starting in 2006 it has allowed Internet service providers in outlying areas to licence unused TV spectrum to provide fixed wireless service called rural remote broadcasting systems (RRBS).

They will be protected under the white space regulations. In fact, the decision marks a turn-around in suggested government policy by promising to continue to issue new RRBS licences while allowing unlicenced use of white space frequencies.

In a consultation paper issued last August Industry Canada proposed gradually phasing out RRBS licencing – while grandfathering existing RRBS providers — arguing TVWS devices will end up being cheaper than modems and other gear used in RRBS.

However, the government decided for the time being to support both.
“I am pleased to hear that wireless ISPs may soon have an alternative to the current 900MHz ISM bands, which have been polluted with interference from power company meter systems,” said.Dan Barnes, owner of RuralWave, a fixed wireless broadband operator whose network serves rural communities northeast of Toronto. “It will allow for greater capacity bandwidth and longer range communications.”  

“Equipment costs on the current RRBS band is very expensive and Industry Canada  prohibits operations within close range to the U.S. due to interference.  This basically eliminates southern Ontario from using the systems potential.  TVWS, I hope, will not follow the same legacy.”

He also said there are still unanswered questions about the licence requirements of network operators using the white space spectrum.

Industry Canada, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Britain’s Ofcom and regulators in a number of other countries are moving on white space frequencies to free up as much spectrum as they can to meet increased demand for broadband.

Technical standards covering things like ways of ensuring unlicenced TVWS devices don’t interfere with each other and transmitter power still have to be worked out. But Industry Canada says it will broadly harmonize its rules with the FCC so network equipment and devices will work in both countries.

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