In today’s world of online corporate blogs, it’s important to keep in mind that although such blogs can inform us, the authors typically aren’t journalists and aren’t always out to provide the full story on an issue. These thoughts came to mind as I read a blog post about TV white spaces penned recently by an AT&T executive.
The executive cited a filing with the FCC from the National Association of Broadcasters charging that the database designed to support TVWS is riddled with errors. Noting that the FCC has big plans for spectrum sharing based on the assumption that a database can accurately track spectrum usage, the author argues that “NAB’s petition now exposes those assumptions to some serious doubts.”
What the executive didn’t mention but which Telecompetitor recently reported on is the response to the NAB from the Wireless Innovation Alliance. According to the alliance, the alleged erroneous database entries are actually test records put into the database to make sure equipment was functioning properly.
The WIA says there have been no interference problems involving TV white spaces and broadcasters because companies deploying TVWS broadband “have been following rules for testing and deployment.” The WIA suggests that the FCC consider standardizing certain database policies such as requiring inactive transmitter records to be purged.
It’s not clear whether AT&T was unaware of the WIA explanation or whether it was aware and chose to omit the explanation in the blog post. But whatever the reason the blog post doesn’t tell the whole story.
Two TVWS Use Cases
There are other problems with the post as well.
For example the executive makes the assertion that eight years after Google touted TVWS technology as “Wi-Fi on steroids,” the technology has seen few actual deployments. But here too the author’s comments tell only part of the story. Importantly the post fails to distinguish between two very different TVWS use cases.
The comment about TVWS being a Wi-Fi killer would appear aimed at 802.11af technology, which is designed to provide about four times the range of traditional Wi-Fi. Bandwidth ranges between 1.8 Mbps to 568 Mbps, depending on how much spectrum is available for use.
The AT&T exec is correct in noting that this technology hasn’t seen much deployment – but that’s not surprising considering that the standard was only published a year ago and stakeholders are waiting to see how much TV white spaces spectrum is freed up in the upcoming broadcast spectrum incentive auction.
Those TVWS deployments that have occurred to date have primarily involved technology based on the 802.22 standard — a completely different approach to TVWS aimed at providing lower data rates (on the order of 22 Mbps per 6 MHz channel) but over distances of several miles. This technology is most suitable for bringing broadband to rural areas that lack higher-speed broadband alternatives and where a clear line of sight between the base station and end user would be difficult or impossible to achieve.
You could call it a niche-within-a-niche market, so it’s not surprising that the number of deployments is small. Nevertheless the technology appears to be an important breakthrough for rural broadband.
AT&T Vs. TV White Spaces
The real question about the AT&T blog post is why the company saw fit to blog about this subject. There are two possible explanations.
One is that the author simply may have wanted to get back at Google. Undoubtedly AT&T, like other large broadband providers, is still smarting over the recent FCC decision on Title II, which favored content providers like Google. And based on the AT&T executive’s retelling, it sounds like Google was overly ambitious and annoyingly smug about how quickly white spaces Wi-Fi could get standardized, built and deployed and how much of a game changer it would be vis-à-vis licensed wireless.
The other possible explanation relates to U.S. spectrum policy more broadly: TVWS advocates would like to see as much spectrum as possible made available for unlicensed use, while wireless network operators like AT&T would prefer to see more licensed spectrum.
Perhaps the author’s motivation was a bit of both. But whatever the motivation, the takeaway is that a company like AT&T has an incentive to tell only part of the story on TVWS — and that’s exactly what occurred with regard to this particular blog post.