TV white space sector set to accelerate from 2014
The industry believes that regulation rather than technology is the biggest obstacle for its development, according to a survey undertaken for a new PolicyTracker report.
2014 will be a defining year for the emergent TV white space industry, a major study by PolicyTracker has concluded. Over the next two years, a number of major technology standardisation efforts will reach completion, allowing a significant volume of standards-based white space devices (WSDs) to come onto the market. In parallel, TV white space rule making will start to accelerate around the world, as countries in Asia and elsewhere follow the early lead taken by North America and the UK.
Technology not the main barrier
Technology is no longer the key barrier to progressing with TV white space, respondents to PolicyTracker’s major industry survey agreed. White space trials undertaken in the US and the UK have demonstrated that the technological approaches being developed today for WSDs to access and operate in TV white space offer a viable basis for future commercial solutions.
Underpinned by regulation, it is technology standards that can drive the mass adoption of TV white space solutions. Several technology standards are under development, addressing a variety of potential uses for white spaces, including rural broadband access, wireless local area networking (WLAN) and machine communications.
The 802.22 base standard for rural broadband was ratified in 2011, and will be supported in future by technology suppliers such as US rural broadband proponent Carlson Wireless. A stable version of the 802.11af WLAN standard has been put forward for approval and could be fully ratified in early 2014. In addition, a complete specification for the Weightless machine-to-machine standard is tabled for the first quarter of 2013. The completion of standardisation efforts such as these can pave the way for the emergence of standards-based chipsets and WSDs (radios and terminals) suitable for the mass market from 2013–2014 onwards.
With geolocation databases increasingly seen as the best way forward in the short term for opening up TV white spaces, standardising the interaction between WSDs and the databases will be vital to ensure interoperability between devices and databases from different suppliers. This interface will be addressed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) PAWS (Protocol to Access White Space database) standard, which is being fast-tracked for completion by the end of 2012.
Geolocation approach will spur regulation
PolicyTracker’s survey found a clear consensus among respondents that regulation – not technology – is currently the principal barrier to progressing with white spaces. A slow pace of introducing white space rules, uncertainties stemming from the WRC-12 decision on a second digital dividend in ITU Region 1, (arguably) unduly conservative protection requirements for incumbent services, and a lack of regulatory harmonisation were all mentioned by respondents as factors that still need to be addressed.
At the same time, consensus is building around using geolocation databases to manage WSDs, and this is beginning to act as a catalyst for white space rule making. As regulators start to align behind geolocation, PolicyTracker expects the pace of regulation to accelerate and a harmonised, multi-regional regulatory approach to TV white spaces to emerge. That, in turn, will provide the clarity and certainty that technology developers need to complete the various white space standards without delays and bring commercial solutions to market.
Support from all stakeholders
The development and sustainability of a TV white space ecosystem depend on getting buy-in from all stakeholders. In particular, existing TV band users – broadcasters, programme making and special events (PMSE), radio astronomy – need to be confident that novel access to TV white space will not damage their services. While some stakeholders, particularly from the broadcasting community, have in recent years become more accepting of TV white space developments, PolicyTracker’s survey showed that others, especially among the PMSE community, remain unconvinced. Regulators and industry need to work together to address any outstanding issues and assure broadcasters and PMSE users that WSDs will not cause harmful interference to their services. Only then will it be possible for the TV white space industry to achieve its full potential.•
This article draws on PolicyTracker’s major new report Developing a Global Ecosystem for TV White Spaces. Based on a comprehensive industry survey, the 90-page report evaluates the status of the nascent TV White Spaces industry and explores what remains to be done before a global ecosystem can emerge.