Think of a railroad yard and a bunch of tracks running through it. The railroad yard is the broadcast spectrum, the tracks are the channels, possibly TV channels.
Christian Sandvig is a professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He continues the analogy: "A lot of tracks are empty most of time and the trains when they move through the rail yards, they don't go very fast. So how do rail yard workers get around the rail yard? They don't have to get on a special cart or a special train. They walk around, keep their eyes open looking for trains. Sometimes they walk between tracks, sometimes they walk on tracks if there's no train on the tracks right now."
"So, that's white space. If you look at channels we have assigned for TV or radio, there are gaps between channels and some of channels aren't occupied right now."
Today, the FCC is beginning a 45-day test of a company called Spectrum Bridge and its ability to manage traffic in that rail yard. The idea is to try out several companies, find how to manage the white space the best, and then open the door to a much more robust Internet experience.
"The proponents have told us," says Sandvig, "if they can get access to this spectrum, they'll be able to provide something that's definitely better than DSL and may rival some of the speeds that the cable modems get. So really a very fast wireless Internet that could easily allow you to do something like stream high-def movies."
If the test goes well, that is, and there are no metaphorical train wrecks. As in, collisions of signals. To that end, Spectrum Bridge's database needs to be working extremely well and giving out accurate and timely traffic directions for where on the white space different signals need to go. Any slip up and there's interference.
Julius Knapp is chief of the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology. He says, "What we want to make sure is that it's giving all of the right answers before we actually go live with this online. The manufacturers are already free to submit their products for certification so that they can go onto the market. So we're hopeful that before too long we can see some products on the market that can actually then begin to interface and operate with this database."
Also in today's program, our video game guy Ben Kuchera from Ars Technica tells us about "Space Marine," a game that is exquisitely crafted, oddly beautiful, and extraordinarily violent. How many games do you know of that have stained glass on nuclear bombs?