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back to article TV giants lock horns with Microsoft and Google over white space wireless play

The heads of America's four largest television networks have joined forces to oppose a plan that would stream high-speed internet access over unused TV airwaves. And in doing so, they're taking aim at one of the great oddities of the modern tech industry: a partnership between Google and Microsoft. A coalition of big-name tech …

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Go

hell yes

Google and MS both smell blood in the water of course they are willing to temporarily band together to make a lot of money if they aren't their stockholders should lynch them these broadcasting companies have owned these same spectra for a long time now it will take some work and plenty of legal juice to get the FCC to allow this.Don't ask where you get legal juice it's really ugly.

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Stop

"political environment where science doesn't prevail"

Intelligent design

Global warming

SNAFU

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Tom
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White space wireless is SO wrong!!

Google and Microsoft not withstanding. This is a really bad idea. Lots of existing things use this space. Wireless mics and the like for one. If they want to do "better" wireless, the 900MHz band is already there. Lots of room. If that doesn't work, why not use the analog cell band (where channels 70-83 in the USA used to be). That isn't being used any more. There are already some public service people using chunks of the TV band already. Oh, detect them and don't use it. Not bloody likely. Some of the uses are intermittant in this area, and so is the wireless proposal. It is almost the same as letting bicycles use the unused parts of the freeway (I-280 here, ir the M1 over there). There is lots of room, why not.

I'm sorry this is a really DUMB idea. I'm with the networks on this one.

Besides most of the wireless stuff only needs to go across the house. IEEE802.11b/g/n works fine for this.

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Anonymous Coward

[...] wireless is SO wrong!!

To Tom:

For house-to-house, I agree with you.

As for "across the house": string some wire. You get much higher bit rates, and you don't have to bathe in the wireless radiation. Your neighbors don't bathe (or snoop) in/on your radiation.

Also - you needed to get under the house with tools and flashlight to check for mold, water, and other damage anyway, right? How long has it been?

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Gates Halo

Earth to -snap-crackle-pop-

I can just see it now. There you are quietly listening to Terry Wogan via the Internet like you do at work and all of a sudden Big Mick the juggernaut driver breaks in with "there's a bear in the air" type announcement. Or maybe the local taxi cab company asking who is free for a pickup. And your PC can't understand the traffic and does its BSOD impression.

Or someone switches the microwave on in the kitchen downstairs and all of a sudden you've lost your Internet connection.

What's this story got to do with Paris Hilton anyway?

Andrew

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Anonymous Coward

This is really funny.

UK.Gov (otherwise known as OFCOM) wanted to kill the West End.

Now MS and Google want to do the same thing to Broadway.

Leave the wireless microphones alone, at least until there is a sufficient number of viable alternatives around!

There's no digital wireless microphone system currently in existence with sufficiently low latency to work on the live stage, which is why everybody is still analogue.

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Stop

Why spectrum auction bidding is wrong

The primary requirement should be better facilities and more competition, not higher income.

Therefore, certain parts of the spectrum need to be reserved for specific purposes -- and no company should be allowed a bid which would take its own total to more than 5% of the spectrum available for that particular purpose.

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Emo

Microsoft hardware

He cant be using much microsoft hardware, my optical mouse works 100%.

Granted it's not broadcasting on DAB at the mo haha!

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Numpy users

So they say:

"By definition, unlicensed devices cannot interfere with licensed devices and if they do, they have to be corrected or taken off the market. At the end of the day, there's an enormous financial incentive for my clients to get it right."

And what happens once millions of your average Joe has a device that causes problems that they don't know about? How do you persuade them to give up using something because of *others* having a problem?

That is the key problem, how to disable devices that are causing problems, either because of bad design (like MS supplied for such a critical test - and that did not work, let alone a cost reduced mass-market one), or partial failure (e.g. that is not enough to stop operation, but has killed the 'white space' detection ability), or due to the near-far problem where a sensitive TV antenna is listening to a far off station that a deaf device in someone's room can't hear.

Explain the solution to those problems, and most would be happy. Answers please?

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Joke

talk of "speeds of up to 100Mbit"...

... is meaningless tosh.

There was this bloke called Shannon. He had a law. It applied way back, it still applies today. No one's broken it yet. The cleaner the signal, the more bits per second you get, and the wider the bandwith, the more bits per second you get. There's some formula I can't remember exactly, reminders most welcome.

Unlike telephone lines (where clever engineering has enabled the usable bandwidth to go up by a factor of 1000 or more, whilst maintaining signal quality), the bandwidth (MHz) available from a network of (former) TV transmitters is fixed (by the licence, amongst other things).

The same physical principles that make TV-frequency signals travel further than WiFi also make sure that *interference* from distant stations on the same frequencies also travels (much) further too.

And as any radio listener, TV watcher, or WiFi expert knows, a signal can cause interference (sometimes disastrous interference) long before the unwanted signal is actually usable.

Anyway, back to the new scheme and the "100Mbit/s" number.

Take the available bandwidth (in MHz) per transmitter. It'll be a few dozen, I forget. Multiply that by some quality-dependent small number to get the total broadcast bandwidth per transmitter (in Mbit/s). Note that the small number gets smaller as your signal gets worse (eg further from the transmitter). Then divide that resulting best-case total Mbit/s per transmitter number by the number of punters simultaneously using a given transmitter. Bear in mind that dozens of punters per transmitter gives plenty of bandwidth per punter but is a financial disaster for the operator, thousands is the reverse. Then divide that per-punter number by another small integer to account for protocol overhead.

What does that leave Joe Public? Another 3G-licencing+implementation fiasco in the making, except with a lot fewer transmitters?

If you believe the proposal is viable, there's this bridge I've got shares in, a nice Nigerian chap sold them to me, I know they're worth a fortune, but I need some cash just this month.

It's a joke. The proposal, that is, at least in terms of eventual benefit to punter. But it'll keep the financial and legal paperpushers busy for a few more years.

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IT Angle

Technical issues aside,

This is all about the fear of being replaced.

The internet has been taking people off of the IV stations ever since the dawn of the video download. I know I now have minor allergic reactions to the ads on live TV due to lack of exposure. This idea proposes bringing more internet to a lot of poorly served people.

If I was offering your customers high-bandwidth, piracy-compatible internet access, you'd see a lot of "technical issues" with my proposal too.

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IT Angle

cognitive radio is coming

but we'll get true cognitive radio at about the same time that the Web is Semantic. (they are tailor-made for each other!)(thanks Sir Tim!)

This MS White Space device is an early attempt at Cognitive Radio (CR=a device that understands its local and far environment/policies and can transmit totally un-noticed by other users) It is probably TOO early a system, perhaps in the attempt to grab valuable airspace. Some WiFi's are becoming 'a bit' cognitive, but not yet coming close to the DARPA model of beyond IP - Disruptive Tolerant Mesh Networked XG military systems.

you *can* transmit many bits per RF air symbol, think QAM which transmits approx ten channels in the space for a legacy channel, or OFDM which can have a thousand transmitted subcarriers with FFT and actually performs quite close to the Shannon limit at near the Nyquist rate.

We'll get Software Radio by 2010 and the specialised SDR true cognitive will fade-in by 2015, to handle the free VoIP services and the Pay-per-microsoecond services, /choose your own QoS!

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Anonymous Coward

"close to the Shannon limit at near the Nyquist rate." (and the rest)

Quite so, especially in a one-way (broadcast) environment where frequency allocation can be done at the time the network is designed (as is traditional with a TV network). Still this whole thing is not so likely to be a bright idea in a bi-directional and dynamic environment.

First, there's inevitable protocol overhead, both at IP level and whatever media access control protocol lies underneath that (shared RF frequencies need some kind of shared coordination). Both will reduce the available bit rate and may have other possibly undesirable effects (such as unpredictable latencies).

Second, there's the RF equivalent of the physicist's "many body problem". As there probably aren't many physicists here, let's try a WiFi analogy which some may recognise. Consider an isolated street with half a dozen independent (ideally non-overlapping) WiFi setups working OK. When a new WiFi setup comes along, it will not be able to have a channel to itself (there are only 4 or 5 non-overlapping channels). So whichever channel the new setup picks, someone else's signal quality will decrease. It may decrease so much that they look at changing channel. When they change channel, there aren't any unused frequencies, so they cause new interference for someone else... get the idea? (Then what if someone comes in with a 2.4GHz videosender which doesn't show up on anyone's WiFi gear except as an unexpected degradation of signal?) The TV-frequency setup will have a few more channels, a lot wider propogation area, and (allegedly) a lot more punters.

TV-type frequencies are also subject to rather more weather-dependent propagation effects than WiFi, as many TV and radio listeners will confirm.

Net result: chaos (in the mathematical sense too?)

Software radio's not new, I worked with a systems house in that business maybe ten years ago, and there are some guys in Chelten... er no. Affordable hardware for real software radio is a different kettle of fish, and has limited relevance to fixed-function mass-market consumer kit, where saving a few cents on silicon is (usually) going to be more important than a flexible design. E.g. readers may be aware that Linksys cost-reduced one of their routers by changing to a commercial OS (VxWorks) rather than a free one (Linux), because they saved more money on memory (VxWorks using less than Linux) than they spent per-box on the new OS licence.

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@cognitive radio is coming

Yes, it is coming, but there are serious issues in making it work acceptably in the bands that have other legacy systems. The key problems that I see (and have already mentioned) are:

1) How sensitive do you need to be?

This of course depend on the type of antenna / placement / system that is currently in use. Basically you need to be sure that you can detect the same signal before broadcasting something that will wipe out the other users.

This, of course, is the primary reason why band planning is such a good idea. Unfortunately that goes against the 'free market' religion of the USA and big business. They do not care about minority users or overall quality, only about monetising the spectrum.

2) How do you revoke the use of any frequency ranges that are causing problems one the devices are deployed?

The key point here is that once they are being sold, you can say goodbye to a return to previous use. The ‘deregulation’ of a given spectrum is essentially a one-way process, as even with stopping the sale of a class of device, once they are in use by millions of non-professional users, it will take years, if not decades, for the usage to drop to near zero. If you made a mistake, then really there is no going back.

Now there are good arguments that TV is crap and not that worthwhile usage, but its there and tens of millions of users have an expectation of it, as do the networks who support it.

The ideal cognitive radio use is in a band where it is already deregulated, so there are no expectations of a given quality or access level. If you do plan on deploying it in a band where there are expected issues of band access for intermittent uses, or high gain antennas and sensitive receiver and so on (e.g. wireless mics and rural TV as currently deployed) then you should have devices that operate both cognitively and with some centralised permission system.

In essence, each radio should be required to have a method of regularly obtaining a ‘certificate’ to use given frequencies (perhaps specific to its serial number), and be aware of its geographic location (may be tied to the certificate generation). If it can’t obtain the valid certificate, or if it is revoked due to complaints over certain frequencies, then the radio must stop using some or all of the band frequencies.

This would mean having some sort of low rate network (or side channel) that manages the system centrally, which again is something the ‘free market’ mob would vehemently oppose, but it would allow both spectrum efficient re-use where it is genuinely unused, but with a guarantee of revoking troublesome devices or protecting users against poor detection capabilities.

However, I seriously doubt that the key proponents here (MS & Google) or the USA government (i.e. FCC) are likely to listen to technical sense where it is going to cost money to implement. Even if some of this (e.g. geographic / cell location) could be very useful for some types of service, advertisement targeting, etc.

Again, if I see these point answered, I would support it. But I have my doubts...

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Anonymous Coward

Cognitive radio

Result of "knowledge" engineering, perhaps? Do they know the concept of a "race condition"?

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Anonymous Coward

"piracy-compatible internet access"

That's actually one of the more interesting aspects of this picture. On the one hand, Microsoft, the people who made Trusted Computing mean "Trusted by RIAA/MPAA, sod the punter". On the other hand, the world's biggest low-grade copyright abuse wholesaler, and possibly one of the world's biggest largely-Microsoft-free shops, Youtube/Google. How will that work? Piracy will be frowned upon, so what's in it for Google? Probably something to do with selling adverts on TV, so better get your anti-allergy treatments ready. And will Google need the MS-proprietary Windows-only DRM on their non-MS delivery platforms ?

Then there's the small matter of where will it lead outside the USA, and if it's USA-only, will there actually be enough money in it to cover one-off costs?

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Boffin

450Mhz

They use NMT (Old analog system that was used in Europe, is being replaced by a new digital mobile network in the same frequency) and that uses 450Mhz, but that is in the central of the UHF spectrum, but that is being used by television stations, among other things. Somebody should also tell them that they also use 380Mhz for communications. Adding a WLAN to 700Mhz, if done correctly should not be a issue.

There are tech details on the frequency bands wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UHF

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_Mobile_Telephone

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GSM_frequency_bands

I hope that I got that correct.

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Internet TV

For the impatient in the world, adverts fund new material. Without adverts networks couldn't pay producers to make new shows.

When TV dies and gets replaced by the internet, adverts will be thick and fast, probably not much better than most of the dodgy junk which comes down today. Failing that, innovation will completely die off.

What we need, is companies to start making *decent* adverts. Like the old Hamlet ones, or Wheatabix (sp?), or more recently, Honda (domino rally) and Skoda (now I'm hungry). They'd benefit from more buyers too. I hate this 'everyone else buys it, go out and buy it too' adverts.

Personally, I reckon the initial use of these systems will be fine. But, as the userbase increases the problems will increase. I'm with the network broadcasters for once.

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Eh? "a political environment where science doesn't prevail"

It will be interesting to see if the weak US authorities allow these hot-dogging software giants to spend megabucks demonstrating a complete failure of engineering capabilities against the laws of physics, only to destroy the licensed public broadcasting system in the process.

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Pirate

interfere

Please please please... ANYTHING to interfere with Murdoch and that trash he's responsible for!

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Boffin

Digital Electronics designers don't understand RF

It is quite clear from the way that digital electronics designers have introduced all sorts of RF (Radio Frequency) pollution into everyday use that they have neither the technical skill nor the inclination to resolve. What is often termed "electronic smog" now makes much of the short wave bands unusable in big cities. Previously low power could communicate all round the world.

I seriously hope this project fails ignominiously, but seeing that Microsoft are involved, and the Microsoft always gets what it wants, I will not hold my breath.

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Gates Horns

And once it's deployed, there will be no hope

Ok, simple explanation why this idea is broken:

1) To pick up the faint TV signals, you need a big funny-shaped aerial on the roof. As has been amply demonstrated, a diddy desktop stick aerial doesn't cut it. Guess what these new devices will have.

2) While the TV aerial is mainly sensitive in the direction its pointing, it's not totally deaf to signals from, say, inside the house.

So, the new device will have a quick listen, decide there's noting to write home about in the space it's about to use, and start squeaking away. Your TV, with it's sooper-sensitive tuner and big aerial, will be swamped by this signal (so-called "de-sensing") and so you lose the picture, or get loads of snow and breakup.

And guess what? You won't be able to sue, 'cos the device will be FCC-certified.

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Gates Horns

Packet Radio

I remember playing with packet radio on the amateur radio bands and I can see a lot of the issues discovered there that will come and ruin this new technology. So not only will it wreck US TV broadcasting, but it'll be slow and inefficient and generally useless itself. Worse, the technology will leak to countries that don't want it, and the rest of us will suffer as well.

If Microsoft say they comply 100%, just remember that it is a demo version...

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Alert

800 MHz band is still in use, Tom

Let's not make up facts. The 800 MHz cellular band is in full use in the US, mostly by Verizon Wireless and ATT Mobility, who've bought up most of the A and B block original licensees. The 902-928 MHz band is used by many things besides unlicensed data. (Like 2.4 GHz, its primary use is "ISM" -- industrial heating, motion detectors, and other non-information transmitters.)

Microsoft's original prototype was obviously broken. (It was from Microsoft. What did you expect?) Now they're shipping a Service Pack version to the FCC. Other manufacturers can also build them.

It would be unacceptable for a whitespace device to cause "TVI", but that's really a trivial technical problem. DTV transmitters are spaced far enough apart ot leave lots and lots of room. I think the broadcasters are hoping to get permission some day to convert their broadcast frequencies to some other use, and are trying to forestall conflicts.

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Stop

White Noise?

So I suppose, if they turn channel 5 into say, the Network Channel, well fine. But what if a new TV broadcaster wants to transmit there? "Oops, sorry, but all channels available are now for unlicensed transmissions".

And well, there is no way to recover such "whitespace", as now a zillion devices will be using the frequency. I side with the networks on this one, in fact I'm not really keen on wireless stuff anyway. WiFi is for mobile access on open spaces, public areas with lots of laptops, or (sometimes) residential use. For long-distance coverage, there's that thing called "optic fiber", isn't there??? The one they promised us to run directly into our homes.

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Boffin

@ cognitive radio is coming

David Shaw,

The Semantic Web is now [although to be absolutely truthful, that should read Semantic Webs are now, but the technology is MkUltra Sensitive and thus not one discussed willy nilly. Careless talk costs Lives is always a current mantra in Control Circles] and cognitive radio has been a concern and therefore a Technology, if not mastered, at least well under a semblance of control by the Military for a lot longer than you may imagine. Although their name for it, is TEMPEST.

If you consider television as a brain-washing medium, with its content tailored to provide a view and opinion of the world for the masses, you can easily understand the jitters felt by the incumbent pushers of propaganda should enlightenment expose them as working to feather their own nests at the expense of their audience and the "actors" who have reacted to the political drivers/executive orders which created the plot and script. Knowing that Life is just a Great Game played by a handful of Fools behind a Bank of vaults, would not endear them to those who suffer their slings and arrows of misfortune.

And if you believe that it isn't simply so, then you are wrong. And a dogged fight to preserve the Status Quo rather than move on with new ideas and technologies, which is surely the natural norm, should surely be enough to have one thinking that it is as so stated.

The logical next step for "them", rather than adopting a hold back the tide approach would be to take the bull by the horns and ensure that Content is tailored to their needs. They need to invest heavily in new Drivers, cogniscent of and sympathetic to their woes .... and that can only be done with Original Content which does not pay lip service to the Past.

A fat cat is a fat cat and never a lien Mean Virtual Machine. Those, they buy into, to stay fat and out of harm's way.

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Has nothing to do with TV broadcast...

While local broadcasters may just be stupid (not understanding how it works) or rightfully concerned (well, MS made stuff doesn't work right most of the times), big TV studios objections have different explanation:

1) they want as few as possible content providers to compete with them, especially with alternative delivery channel:

2) speaking of tradistional channels - cable network operators would (who have absolutely no say in the matter legally) will pressure TV networks to the hilt to assure their own monopoly not just in content delivery, but internet access as well. Who the hell will pay cable co $50 a mounth to have incoming traffic "prioritised" (is this net nuetrality fall on it's face)?

This is not about rural regions at all - this is about New York, LA, etc. - places where sat tv and munisipal wi-fi are either technically or politically difficult to be made to work.

cheers

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Made by God

The big 4 think the airwaves where made for them? Microsoft think the box running under the desk your reading this on was made for them. Pot, kettle, black.

How would this work in the UK? They have enough difficulty justifying the TV license as it is. A license that states if you have an item capable of receiving in these bandwiths you have to pay the fee. (I could be wrong, feel free to correct) so will you have to pay it for the devices in question? If not why would we have to pay it for the TV?

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Oh goody!

Don't know much about the mechanics of broadcasting but I am cheered at the prospect this presents. After all, anything that might interfere with the reheated drivel typically delivered on US network channels would be a boon.

No, let's not worry about disrupting broadcast television - it could only improve it.

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Black Helicopters

The RF Spectrum is already gone!

thinking about MS & Gooogle & whoever trying to claim the ("actually about 95% unused" bits of the) natural RF spectrum brings me to mind a discussion that I heard in 2005.

( I took contemporaneous notes, now where are they....)

Ah yes, US Department of Defence, Office of the Secretary of Defense: Dr. Badri Younes, (Director) stated on Tuesday 7th June that

“We”, (The US Defense Department) ,“Claim the Spectrum, it is Ours, we will be Spectrum Dominant using the new technologies!”

Now, I took this as 'military speak', after all , most people might think that the 'natural RF Spectrum' belongs to , er, nature rather than a transient empire, but on further questioning it seems to have derived from *serious* US Industry lobbying, to the FCC, other regulators and to Congress. US Industry was trying to grab BIG chunks of the (really only 5% used) RF Spectrum. This backfired in a big way when the US Military got worried about WiFi nodes interference to their radars etcetera and got The Prez to gift the whole EM Spectrum to the DoD= primary user, everyone else secondary user - now negotiate about the crumbs!!

some more old stuff at http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3084475 (caution advert-ware)

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Alert

Just give up!

go "fibre to home" sell fibre bandwidth for broadcasting (or perhaps a sort of part exchange for spectrum usage) to the TV companies and use all the wireless spectrum they want!

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