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The 700mhz Spectrum Auction In Perspective 88

Posted by Zonk
from the kind-of-a-big-deal(tm) dept.
YIAAL writes "Writing in Popular Mechanics, Robert X. Cringely looks at the upcoming auction of the 700mbz spectrum, which is currently used for soon-to-be-defunct analog TV. 'Why are all these companies so excited? Because the 60 MHz of spectrum that's about to be auctioned is the last prime real estate for mobile communications that will be available in the U.S. for decades to come ... Some pundits (that would be me) think Google will bid to win its spectrum block, then will trade that block to Sprint/Nextel for some of that company's 2.5-GHz WiMAX licenses that are far better suited for data.' Plus, the prospect of offering unlicensed data service in the 'white space' between existing broadcast channels."
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The 700mhz Spectrum Auction In Perspective

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  • What are we talking about here? Millihertz? Millibitz (or whatever the 'z' in mbz means)?
    • by nacturation (646836) <nacturation.gmail@com> on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:56PM (#22169960) Journal

      What are we talking about here? Millihertz? Millibitz (or whatever the 'z' in mbz means)?
      Missed By Zonk.
       
    • by soulsteal (104635)
      They're clearly tlaking about the FCC auction of the 700 megaberts range. One megaberts being equal to one million of Bert from Sesame Street.

      That's alot of pigeons. :x
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by bobl (35751)
      Dot vould be megabits-per-zecond, don't you know?

          - L. von Drake
    • I think "700 Mbz" means some one is going to auction off seven hundred German made automobiles. Seems unlikely that Google would want so many of them so trading them off seems reasonable.
  • I've been deeply skeptical all along and now the _how_ google wins it is in place with this quote "trade that block to Sprint/Nextel"

    The _why_ this spectrum will be neither cheap nor open is in the quote "trade that block to Sprint/Nextel"

    Sigh...
  • Good Times (Score:3, Interesting)

    by usul294 (1163169) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:10PM (#22169234)
    I'm anxious to see what develops from this. The 700 Mhz band should have a fairly large range (greater than normal wi-fi), but less than a radio station for example, given the same power. I'm interested in what each of the bidders wants to use the band for, most likely for providing wireless internet. At first connection speed might be a problem though, but still acceptable for casual browsing and e-mail. maybe not fast enough for real-time youtube.
    • by RingDev (879105) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:16PM (#22169312) Homepage Journal
      And what would happen if one of the bid winners licensed existing TV stations to broadcast over some specific frequency just as they already are? Sure, it's not innovative or revolutionary, but the broadcast TV model has already proven profitable, and there are a LOT of people in the US with out HD TV's/Converters. Seems like there could be a rather solid market out there to continue the status quo, at least for a while until the HD penetration numbers rise.

      -Rick

      • by Average (648)
        TV broadcasting isn't all that profitable and is severely inefficient. The OTA converter boxes for the small minority who need one (and I am one... rooftop antenna and curbside free 25" TV is good enough for me) will be readily available soon enough. There are hundreds of thousands of them in shipping containers on boats from China at this moment.
        • by hedwards (940851) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @02:06PM (#22170120)
          In general I agree, I've played around a bit with my wee small antenna and an atsc tuner, and the results are far better than I was getting with an ntsc tuner. The picture is crisp, clear and consistent in a way that the analog signal never was in this room.

          But anybody that lives out in the boonies, the places where getting quite a bit of static are going to be screwed over if they haven't gone satellite.

          Overall though, I think that the people that are screaming to maintain the status quo and the horribly inefficient allocation of the airwaves for an increasingly small minority need to think about the common good, and consider whether they have a right to forgo paying for a subsidized box if it means depriving everybody of the use of the spectrum.

          It would in many ways make more sense to subsidize a basic satellite package for people that live far enough away from the nearest broadcaster than to maintain the system as it is.

          Even if the spectrum is bought out by a company that misbehaves in the end, we still have an additional choice to make, whereas previously we had one fewer option. And that's a good thing either way, it gives a chance for a new service to sink or swim.
          • by evilviper (135110) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @03:59PM (#22171990) Journal

            But anybody that lives out in the boonies, the places where getting quite a bit of static are going to be screwed over if they haven't gone satellite.

            Actually, you've got that exactly backwards. Those on the fringes who get ANY picture on analog TV stations, should expect to get a perfect ATSC signal. It has been proven in practice a great many times (a web search should turn up plenty of accounts). And more to the point, broadcast radius is, in fact, ATSC's biggest strength over DVB.
            • That is correct except for those of us who live in an area that is prone to hurricanes. The digital tv broadcast is lost long before the analog broadcast i.e. during Katrina, Mobile's NBC 15 broadcasts digital on 47. It was lost 1 hour into the storm, yet 15 never went out. Kudos to the government for the wonderful changes!
              • Does that channel broadcast its analog and digital signals from the same tower? If not, then maybe the digital tower just fell down and the analog one didn't. Or if they are on the same tower then maybe the lines carrying the digital signal to the tower were damaged and the analog ones weren't. There are many possibilities other than just degradation of the signal that could have come into play during a storm as powerful as Hurricane Katrina.
                • Not sure, it just went out. I felt better that once I saw we could still watch analog tv. The fact was it was only 3 1/2 hours into the storm we lost power and the little 5" weather tv only picks up analog tv. Guess, I will have to buy one of those converters to make that work when the power fails off of the old power inverter.
      • by greensoap (566467) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:53PM (#22169902)
        Based on the auction rules, there is nothing limiting the potential licensees to which technologies they use the licenses for. (Except maybe the blocks designated for public safety.) The cost of each license is probably enough to prevent it. The cost and the geographic limitations that is; most licenses are fairly small (designed for potential Commercial Mobile Radio Services [CMRS]) the exception being Block C in the Upper 700 MHz with is broken into 12 geographic area groupings.

        Traditional analog broadcasts had higher power ratings and larger coverage areas than allowed by the new licenses. The reasons being that the broadcasts were all one direction and the broadcasters were attempting to get the signal to as many people as possible. The new licenses are designed with CMRS in mind. CMRS doesn't use the coverage TV broadcast did, the more coverage the more transmitters requiring a piece of the network. Whereas, TV there was just one transmitter. Because CMRS is all about two way communication, it makes more sense to keep the each transmitting network small and have many of them. That way you can let, say, 20 people transmit within a range of frequencies on 10th avenue and one block over allow a different set of 20 people to transmit within the same range (the network serving 40 people across the two city blocks). Increase the power rating, hence the range, now the same geographic area only serves 20 people because there isn't enough spectrum space to serve more within the frequency range. (Okay, very crude example with very little actual engineering. Somebody familiar with current GSM standards could provide a much more accurate example. But, this should convey the concept.)

        Because the licenses were designed with CMRS in mind, the power ratings are lower and the size of each "cell" is smaller. In order to have effective TV broadcast you would have to buy many of the license to ensure you didn't cause interference over another licensee's geographic coverage.

        Furthermore, it doesn't make sense for a broadcasting company to spend large dollars on new licenses when those broadcasters are all transitioning to digital TV. It makes more sense to just go with the transition and tell consumers that it isn't their fault because the government made them do.

        Basically, there is really nothing in the auction rules themselves, but economically speaking it would not be a wise business decision.
      • by Lumpy (12016)
        and there are a LOT of people in the US with out HD TV's/Converters.
        Actually it's worse than that. I cant even buy the damned things.

        ZERO stores locally (within a 100 mile radius local) have them or are expecting to even stock any of them. I wanted to get my family on the ball with info on where to go and where to get their "coupon" for the discount.

        The coupon is useless as not only are there no supporting sellers within a 2 hour drive, you cant even buy the crap if you wanted to.

        Getting my grandma to gi
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Not trying to be rude here but...
        Um...you just came up with a solution to a problem that isn't even there.
        I'm not sure you know what the transition from Analog broadcast to Digital broadcast is all about. And you are not alone.

        Nobody is required to switch over to HD. At no point has the analog to digital transition had ANYTHING to do with whether or not anyone owns an HD capable television.

        It is merely to stop broadcasting broadband, innefficiant ANALOG signals in favor of narrower, more efficient DIGITAL s
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by evilviper (135110)

        the broadcast TV model has already proven profitable,

        And is becoming less profitable by the day...

        and there are a LOT of people in the US with out HD TV's/Converters.

        This is just stupid. People don't have converter boxes now, but by 2009 damn near all of them are sure to, on the government's dime. Not to mention that digital will give you the opportunity for 4+ channels in the same amount of spectrum, and that the crappy quality of analog broadcasts is what drove many of the people in the country to PAY f

      • by cybereal (621599)

        Seems like there could be a rather solid market out there to continue the status quo, at least for a while until the HD penetration numbers rise.

        "solid market" ... "HD Penetration" ... ok... are you trying to subconsciously advertise a porn distribution service here!? Because I'd like to know where I should sign...

      • by unitron (5733)
        That idea is so devious I'm ashamed that it never occurred to me. Now if only the new channel 69 could be "Channel 69" all those old television sets would suddenly be in great demand. :-)
    • by LWATCDR (28044)
      They say that it can do 10mbits at 70km so I think it would be fast enough for YouTube.
      What it will not be fast enough for is streaming HD-Video to your home.
      The other problem with this spectrum is that the antenna has to be a lot larger than for a 2.4ghz. You can trade off efficiency for a smaller antenna but that also isn't great for a mobile device.

      One thing I would love to see is a terrestrial positioning system using that spectrum. It should work in places where you can not get a GPS signal like in bui
      • IIRC Youtube streams at around 70 KBytes/sec, or 560kbit/s. Imagine maxing out at 20 users in a 70km cell :O
  • Some pundits (that would be me) think Google will bid to win its spectrum block, then will trade that block to Sprint/Nextel for some of that company's 2.5-GHz WiMAX licenses that are far better suited for data.
    Score some 700-MHz off eBay then do the old baseball card trade for some 2.5-GHz!
  • by 192939495969798999 (58312) <info@devinmoo r e . c om> on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:24PM (#22169422) Homepage Journal
    Google: Hey Sprint/Nextel, trade you my 700 Mhz for your 2.5Ghz!
    (awkward pause)
    Sprint/Nextel: nah.
    (awkward pause)
    Google: ... damn!
    • by mounthood (993037) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:37PM (#22169618)

      Google: Hey Sprint/Nextel, trade you my 700 Mhz for your 2.5Ghz!
      (awkward pause)
      Sprint/Nextel: nah.
      (awkward pause)
      Google: ... damn!
      Google: OK we'll just buy you.

      http://finance.google.com/finance?q=Google+Sprint [google.com]
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by UbuntuDupe (970646)
        Wow, didn't know that feature existed. Here's [google.com] something even more depressing.
        • by Kagura (843695)
          Also see List of Corporations by Market Cap [wikipedia.org] at wikipedia. It shows companies that have a much greater market cap than Google has, mostly that of oil and banking corporations. Verizon has a 110b market cap, as far as large-name teleco goes.
      • by hyperz69 (1226464)
        I Google had enough cash on hand to do so, market capital is not how much money a company has to just go out buying anything it wants. Sprint has 51 billion in assets and Google 21 billion. Sprint has a market cap just north of 25 billion. So Figure in 20% For an aggressive buyout and you hit 30 billion. Google would have to go into MASSIVE DEBT to buy Sprint. So... no ;P But hey I got some stock in a hot new Pharmaceutical Company that is in stage 2 testing for a cancer cure. I can hook you up with share
  • Personally, I'm a little angry that their killing off regular broadcast TV to begin with. Granted, digital is really great if you have a tuner for it...but a LOT of people DON'T!.

    If they're selling this spectrum off for 6 billion of 20 billion or whatever it is, I propose that they use the money to purchase enough digital tuners to give out for free to anybody who asks for the following 2 years after they make the switch.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:30PM (#22169494)
      They already have the coupon system ($40 off a tuner, and surely someone will make a simple one for less than that).

      You're a few years too late in your complaint.
      • by Stooshie (993666)

        Yeh it's all very well having cheap tuners, but they are useless if the are you live in doesn't have dull coverage until after the switchover (certain areas of the UK).

    • coupons here (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bobs666 (146801)
      You can get 2 $40 coupons at this site [dtv2009.gov]
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        You can sign up for the coupons, but the converter aren't available yet... Also I'd like to know if Tivo will support one or more of the converters. I have an analog Tivo with lifetime subscription. I'll be mighty pissed if they don't support a digital converter using an IR blaster like they do with Satellite converters.
        • by kcornia (152859)
          What an awesome potential revenue stream this could be for Tivo.

          Customer: I need a Tivo that supports this converter I have for my TV.
          Tivo: I'm sorry, we don't have anything like that.
          Customer: But I have a lifetime subscription.
          Tivo: Well it sounds like the lifetime for that service is now passed. Why don't you take a look at our new monthly rates.
          Customer: ...
          • I wish companies would relize that supporting old products is good for the botton line. What would happen to Ford, if you couldn't buy a critical part for your 10 year old car. Some car companies have sold their tools and dies to smaller companies that manufacture parts for 50 year old cars, because it's good advertizing to have 50yo antique cars around.

            To continue your conversation:

            Customer: Ok, no thanks. I'll check out your competition and get back to you. Maybe mythtv is good enough now...
        • by geekoid (135745)
          You will need to get a new TiVO if you want to use it to change the channel or record a channel not currently being watched.
          The converter box will be the new 'channel changer'

          If TiVO is really customer service oriented, they will let you pass the subscription to a new TiVO box.
    • by ch-chuck (9622) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:39PM (#22169644) Homepage
      Yeah, it really sucked when they switched records from 78rpm to 33rpm - my grandfather had to go out and buy a whole new turntable and stylus, bastards.

      • Yeah, it really sucked when they switched records from 78rpm to 33rpm - my grandfather had to go out and buy a whole new turntable and stylus, bastards.
        My grandfather saved his money from buying the latest tech and just learned to listen faster.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by geekoid (135745)
        Except they didn't intentionally break the 78 setting on your grandpas record player.
    • Why? Your proposal costs money to all manner of large corporations, whereas the present system means that people will be buying new TVs--hence giving the economy a boost, just like the gov't wants.

      O'course, someone with a bit of wherewithal and some contacts could perhaps convince the various networks and production companies and whatnot to sponsor the distribution of said converter boxes--prominently labeled with the logo of the network or production company. Kinda like the Y2K business in duration, b
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by planetralph (944937)
      This is already implemented. Not quite as extravagant as you propose, but there are coupons for up to 2 TV's per household that will cover close to the full cost of a digital tuner. People without cable or satellite have priority for some of the coupons. The only problem is the people who need the program are the ones who won't be tuned in enough to know that things are changing until all the coupons are gone. Maybe advertising on TV will help.

      https://www.dtv2009.gov/ [dtv2009.gov]
    • If you don't have cable or satellite service and you're not willing to spring for a new tuner, than TV isn't that important to you and you won't miss it.
  • by VeriTea (795384) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @02:21PM (#22170380) Journal
    The article is just plain wrong when it states that the 2.5GHz band is superior for data, it is not. Throughput is primarily dependent on bandwidth, so 20MHz at in the 700MHz spectrum will effectively carry the same amount of data as 20MHz in the 2500MHz spectrum. The big difference is that Google can provide coverage in rural/suburban areas that have relatively low demand for throughput with far fewer sites. In urban areas Google can pack the sites just as closely together and will still be better off then they would with the 2.5GHz spectrum because they won't have to install in-building repeaters to ensure good coverage inside many of the buildings that would otherwise require such a system.
    • I think you're wrong. It also depends on the wavelengths too, which in turn depend on a radio wave frequency. Anyway, shorter the wavelengths more data you can pack in one bandwidth. Since, in GHz frequency range, wavelengths are shorter this means more data you can pack in the same bandwidth.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by shadow_slicer (607649)
        Wrong. OP is correct. All things being equal you can fit the same amount of data in 700-720MHz as in 2.5-2.52GHz. As another poster mentioned [slashdot.org] the difference is not capacity, but instead reusability.
      • by unitron (5733)

        Anyway, shorter the wavelengths more data you can pack in one bandwidth.

        Bandwidth isn't a unit of measurement, it's something which is measured (in Hertz, i.e., cycles per second). As your other replier mentioned, 20 MegaHertz is 20 MegaHertz, whether it starts at 700 MHz or at 2.5 GHz.

        Wavelength, or its inverse, frequency, affects stuff like how far a usable signal travels, whether it gets blocked by pine trees or brick walls, whether it follows the curvature of the earth or bounces off one of the upper layers of the atmosphere, is subject to interference from natural (not

    • by morton2002 (200597) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @02:50PM (#22170876)
      The better propagation characteristics do have a drawback: limited frequency reuse. The cells will have to be spaced further apart to avoid overlap, resulting in more users communicating with the same tower. Furthermore 700 MHz doesn't have the scattering properties of higher frequencies that allows for multipath signal combining, which is tremendously useful in non-line-of-sight situations. This means that coverage in dense urban environments will have to rely exclusively on the partial propagation through buildings, which may leave shadows on a coverage map. These quiet zones could be targeted with additional tower placement, if not for the frequency reuse problem.
    • Also keep in mind that Sprint has up to 90 MHz of bandwidth [lightreading.com] at 2.5 GHz. Arguments about 2.5GHz being better-suited to data often implicitly rely on that point.
    • by slonik (108174) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @05:25PM (#22173362)
      The article is just plain wrong when it states that the 2.5GHz band is superior for data, it is not. Throughput is primarily dependent on bandwidth, so 20MHz at in the 700MHz spectrum will effectively carry the same amount of data as 20MHz in the 2500MHz spectrum.

      As someone who professionally designs cellular networks I can tell you that for data services 20MHz at 2.5GHz is much better than the same 20MHz at 700MHz. The data rate is determined not only by the channel bandwidth but also by the amount of interference that is generated by neighboring base stations. This interference depends on the RF propagation characteristics. At 2.5GHz the RF signals die off much faster with the distance than at 700MHz. As a result your interference levels will be lower at 2.5GHz. The downside is, of course, that cell coverage area of each individual base station will get smaller and you have to deploy them at substantially higher density. Rule of thumb: for voice you are coverage limited and you want your 700MHz (or 850MHz, ATT, Verizon) and big cells. For data you want small cells and high frequency band (2 or 2.5GHz).

      Just my two cents from the tranches.
      • by Jott42 (702470)
        You make a lot of assumptions in this argument. Voice today is essentially data - it is digitized information being transferred. Data service quality does not need to be bandwidth limited - SMS is an example of data transfer of fixed bandwidth that could benefit from larger cells. The interference you are talking about is the reason why lower frequencies gives larger cells - with larger cells you have exact the same situation with 700 MHz and 2.45 GHz. Perhaps you are alluding to the measure : bits/second/H
        • by slonik (108174)
          Perhaps you are alluding to the measure : bits/second/Hz/square km?

          Well, the practical metric is bits/second/Hz/user.
          Ideally, each cell will serve small number of users at a high data rate. To achieve this goal, the cell coverage area should be smaller than in a typical "voice service" cell that can serve dozens of users at the same time.
          • by Jott42 (702470)
            You are still assuming that "data" implies a need to maximise the bandwidth available to the user- a lot of applications does not have this need, and would for example benefit from an extended range instead.
  • for a dollar!
  • I doubt very much that they will sell it to Sprint/Nextel. They have just laid off 4,000 employees and are Closing 125 of thier stores nationwide. Sprint just isnt making any money at the moment, and thier churn far exceeds that of the other top 5 Wireless telcos.

    Sprint will be focusing on revitalising its marketing and trying to win customers back, rather than bank money in a high risk venture that wont even pay off for them for years to come.

    Just my 2 cents.
  • Google: I will trade you some of my 700 MHz for your 2.5 GHz Sprint: NO WAI! 2.5 GHz is ultra rare! Google: K! I throw in my lvl 75 Pikachu Sprint: DONE! Score. LOL You suck at this? Google: WAT U MEAN? Sprint: I would have traded for your LV 50 Bulbasaurus and Pikachu! Sprint: Who carez about MEGAHURTZ! LOL! U NEWB! Google: :(
  • I bet this is wrong, but I just thought about the YouTube purchase last year.

    YouTube + Old TV's + UHF Channels = user generated broadcasts to the masses with AdSense video units playing in between.
  • I would actually like to hear some informed ideas about what this will actually likely be used for.  I'm sure it's really cool...I'm just not sure exactly how.
  • I plan to sue any/all private companies who infringe on my property with their RF spectrum without paying me for that privilege.

    How dare they assume that they can abuse me and FREELY use my private property to transmit their signals with impunity.

    The more I read about the health problems created by RF signals, the deeper my concern becomes. Nowhere have I seen ANYTHING that addresses these private companies power output plans. For all I know, it can be unrestricted. I am thinking that a million watts

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