Sunday, November 9, 2008

White Space: Taking the Internet Back to the Future?

The FCC decision this week to open up the TV "white spaces" to unlicensed wireless services has great potential to break the hammer lock that the cable and Telcos have on the consumer Internet business today.

Ten years or so ago, before the advent of cable modem and DSL services, there where hundreds, if not thousands, of ISPs providing dial up consumer Internet access. There were a few large ones such as Prodigy and AOL along with many, many small providers. It was easy and inexpensive to set up a dial up ISP service. Get a T1 line and attach a dial up mux, and you were in business.

The advent of broadband services brought this to an end. The cable modem and DSL services had the ISP service bundled in with them. This gave the cable companies and the Telcos a strong strategic advantage. AOL continues to exist, but is a shadow of its former self. EarthLink provides Internet services on top of Telco DSL services, but has a very small share of the market. Almost all broadband Internet users subscribe to cable or Telco Broadband services.

The white spaces spectrum is the UHF TV spectrum that is not being used to broadcast TV content. There is generally 100 MHz of vacant spectrum that can be used for white spaces applications in the major metro areas. There is 200 MHz or more of vacant spectrum in more rural locations. This is enough to support several ISPs that want to offer services.

WiMAX and LTE 4G technologies can support wireless broadband data services that will provide a 1 to 5 Mbps. This will compete well with broadband cable and DSL services. These wireless services will share the conveniences of mobile voice service that have made them popular. These white spaces services have the potential to dominate the low end of the broadband data market. People will like their personal nature and their go anywhere convenience.

This will drive the cable companies to DOCSIS 3.o and the Telcos to fiber, which will give us all that still want them much higher performance on our home broadband services. Enabling start ups to compete will be a good thing for all of us consumers.

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