TV White Spaces Faces a "Chicken or Egg" Problem

Even if he appears to believe TV white spaces has a reasonable enough business case, Google Access Principal Alan Norman nevertheless says some certainty would be needed before many private sector entities would invest money to use the spectrum. One measure that might help, said Norman, is if Ofcom, for example, could guarantee some number of channels (8 MHz each) would be available for use.

The present problem is that it is unclear how much bandwidth might be made available in the U.K. market.

The other problem, candidly illustrated by Rachel Clark, Ofcom director of spectrum policy, is that “we have to tell people who want to use TV white spaces that we cannot guarantee you will have access every single day. That is a business model challenge.”

That illustrates the element of uncertainty. Though some app providers could live with a “maybe the app can be used, and maybe it cannot, at any specific time of day, or day of the week, very few Internet service providers would be too comfortable trying to sell consumers an access service that might, or might not, work.

It might be fine if the access costs nothing. If it isn’t available, the consumer has risked no money in any case.

The problem will come from ISPs who charge for access, or device suppliers who say their gear will work (inside the home or as an access service).

Those are some of the issues that impede more rapid progress for TV white spaces authorization, then increase in equipment supply and service provider activity and use cases.

It’s a classic “chicken and egg” problem: Without a clear sense of business case, regulators might be cautious about releasing the spectrum. Without a clear sense of when, how much and how spectrum could be released, suppliers have less interest in creating gear, and app providers and ISPs will hold back on launching service.
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