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White Space wonga time: White House tips $100m into next-gen comms

Empty frequencies right place for tomorrow's mics, phones and fridges

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The US government will sink $100m (£63.5m) into research and development of White Space technology over the next five years.

And the majority of the cash will come from everyone's favourite mad-professor tech clearing-house DARPA.

The first $23m will come direct from the White House, and will be awarded in the next couple of months. DARPA's $60m share will be dished out on a similar schedule, but will take a little longer to dispense completely. Applicants must wait until next year for the $17.5m that is coming from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at the US Department of Commerce. But overall it will see $100m invested in White Space, and a huge government endorsement for the technology.

White Space kit uses radio frequencies unused in the surrounding area to transfer data and other signals. Devices can use GPS to pinpoint their locations and then check an online database for frequencies available in their whereabouts. It allows hardware to find a band in which they can talk to each other regardless of where they are; this is handy in countries where radio space is crowded and the available spectrum varies depending upon where you are.

The nine-figure investment demonstrates a commitment by the Americans to take White Space tech beyond the bands once occupied by television channels, which is where White Space currently lurks in the countries where it's legal at all. Those nations include the US and Finland; the UK hopes to have legislation in place by the end of the year. Despite this, Britain has led the world in White Space research with extensive trials fuelling ambitious startups.

Which is why the US is so keen to grab a slice for itself: today White Space technology is only being used in empty TV bands - the low-hanging fruit that remains empty across huge areas thanks to powerful signals from neighbouring transmitters - but the technology can be rolled out in any radio band that is only used in specific locations (such as coastal radar) or is temporarily empty (such as the 600MHz band which remains vacant in the UK until at least 2018).

One can make a reasonable argument for a time when (almost) all spectrum is White Space spectrum, dynamically allocated for a day, an hour or a minute, with only public safety and broadcast technologies using reserved frequencies. But even if that's a pipe dream the US investment will likely pay off, and it's certainly a better bet that most of the stuff DARPA pays for. ®

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