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October 03, 2012

Carlson Wireless CEO Jim Carlson Speaks on White Space Spectrum at ITExpo Austin 2012

White space pioneer and evangelist Jim Carlson, CEO at Carlson Wireless, attended MobilityTechzone’s ITEXPO Austin 2012 Editors’ Day and gave us an insider’s view on the state of the white space spectrum market.

The overriding view is that progress is being made, but slow and steady is what will win the race here to developing a true commercially viable wideband wireless infrastructure and products.

Early last month we spent some time writing about “super Wi-Fi,” or rather about technology based on currently unused “white space” spectrum that has long belonged to the broadcast vendors – who used it for VHS/UHS analog television signals – and to converting it to wideband spectrum that some have dubbed super Wi-Fi.

Also referred to as TV White Space (TVWS), the technology operates within the areas of unused spectrum in the TV bands located between 470 MHz and 698 MHz in the UHF range.

To date, it has been a long hard road to completing the process: from getting the broadcast community to let go of the spectrum to auctioning of the spectrum to developing necessarily powerful radios that are able to meet absurdly high emissions standards, to finally finding a path to monetizing the technology and creating a sustainable wireless infrastructure (that may yet end up being dubbed Super Wi-Fi).

Carlson Wireless was founded back in March 1999, and has been a pioneer in the development of fixed wireless networking. The company has developed a range of wireless products that have one underlying goal – delivering reliable and affordable wireless infrastructure in rural areas and environments where the usual wireless players simply do not reach and for the most part appear to have no real interest in reaching. For the most part, Carlson has looked to WiMAX as the key technology for delivering such capabilities, but in 2009 the company – and its founder – shifted some gears and began to focus a great deal of attention on the many possibilities arising out of the availability of the white spectrum space (as analog TV finally gave way to digital).

According to Carlson, it has been a long hard road. “Regulatory issues still loom large, there is uncertainty about licensing, and there are issues surrounding dynamic spectrum allocation that still require workable solutions,” Carlson noted. “A thorny issue is one of meeting emission requirements that the broadcast industry has set for the white spectrum industry that have been set very high. Building affordable yet powerful radios that will work in rural environments that can meet emissions requirements is a difficult task.”

It has been a mystery to some of us as to why the U.S. broadcast media community has been so reluctant to opening up the white spectrum market. Carlson says broadcast media and government regulators in global communities such as Southeast Asia are fully on board and ready to drive white spectrum infrastructure. Perhaps it is because there are vast areas in these markets that are rural and would otherwise have no wideband services. But the United States has its own rural communities that lack basic wideband services.

Carlson is never the less optimistic. His company and Neul have collaborated and managed to deliver early stage capabilities for white space delivery as an example of this. And Carlson Wireless has delivered its RuralConnect product. “We are now working to deliver a reliable product set that we can drive to an affordable price point,” he said. “We believe that by mid-2013 we may very well get there, but for now it remains a challenge.”

Recently, Carlson engineered a new breed of TVWS antenna that has never before available. This high-gain omni-directional base-station antenna is specifically designed to meet the demands of TVWS. But the product is not yet able to be delivered for the price point necessary to be both sustainable in the real world and viable as a profitable product line.

An example of an affordable product would be a powerful antenna that would cost around $250. That price is currently unattainable, and in order to launch deployments that will provide large scale validity to the white space concept involves making financial sacrifices.

Said Carlson: “Our company is getting products out the door but we must subsidize them internally by taking huge hits on our margins. But it is the only way to make things happen. Electronic equipment and parts companies do help us in getting to price points we can manage without going bankrupt, but it will be probably another year before we begin to see financial benefits from our subsidy efforts.”

The white space – or Super Wi-Fi – market is one that will benefit many people across large rural environments. The sooner the regulators and the broadcast community get their act together and remove the remaining roadblocks the better for all concerned. 

Want to learn more about the impact and potential future of White Spaces? Then be sure to attend the Super Wi-Fi Summit, collocated with ITEXPO Austin 2012 happening now in Austin, TX. Stay in touch with everything happening at Super Wi-Fi Summit. Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Braden Becker

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