White space devices and technology provide an opportunity to access large amounts of prime spectrum, supporting a wide range of potential broadband and machine-to-machine applications. Such devices could generate additional revenue of $765m for the wireless component industry by 2017. However, this is contingent on strong regulatory decisions being made in the next two years, and the industry taking a harmonized view of the business model.
The underused white spaces within the TV spectrum band are seen by regulators and web players as an important source of additional, licence-exempt capacity for wireless services. According to a new report, jointly produced by Real Wireless and Rethink Technology Research, many applications are being trialled, but the main revenue generators will be in machine-to-machine and broadband access segments. By 2017, M2M will be the dominant market, overtaking broadband in terms of device component sales and accounting for 52% of the total.
However, these two key applications often make conflicting demands on the spectrum and may not be able to coexist happily. Difficult decisions will need to be made on how to protect quality of service for anchor users, while maintaining the open nature of the spectrum.
“The chief advantages of the white spaces – the dynamic way in which they are being harnessed, and the low cost of their unlicensed state – can both be reduced or lost by the mechanisms which could be put in place to guarantee quality of service, perhaps for one ‘killer app’ which is allowed to take precedence,” said Simon Saunders, Director of Technology for Real Wireless.
Interference between the various incumbent and new services in the band is one of the risks associated with white spaces plan. But there are many other issues which have remained somewhat hidden amid the general enthusiasm since the US FCC agreed to open up the white spaces in 2008. Despite some high profile early trials, and a handful of small deployments in the US, the technology is still at a very early stage. Business models are not yet agreed, and the ecosystem is immature, with many influential suppliers expressing support but not yet developing commercial products.
Other risk factors include delays in opening the spectrum round the world; a fragmented regulatory environment; device and chip costs; Should these key challenges not be addressed, the market could be worth significantly less in 2017 – as little as $400m, according to the Real Wireless/Rethink forecast, which is based on extensive interviews with players across the white spaces value chain (component providers, device and equipment makers, standards bodies, operators, internet companies, regulators and others). However, a strong commercial framework and ecosystem could result in a best case scenario where the sector is worth as much as $1.2bn.
The report is the first to combine detailed technical modelling of the qualities of this spectrum with commercial analysis and forecasts. As such it provides the most comprehensive analysis available of the opportunities for white spaces spectrum, and the challenges which need to be met. It charts the progress of the technology towards commercialization, especially in the US and UK, and considers the standards and regulatory environment worldwide in detail.
This report gives sufficient detail to enable investors, technologists, product vendors and regulators to determine whether white space devices:
- Provide a credible and sustainable investment opportunity with sufficient near and mid-term growth opportunity
- Are supported by commercial momentum and confidence in the ecosystem
- Are supported by a regulatory framework that is based on thorough and detailed technical and economic analysis
- Can establish a sustainable product roadmap and plans for vendor relationships and interoperability
Further details of the report are now available.