Dec 29 2011

Commercialisation of TV White Spaces in 2012?

TV white spaces and cognitive radio took some big steps towards commercialization in 2011. On the regulation side, FCC in the US put out the final rulings to allow TV white spaces and Ofcom in the UK has intended to allow it.  FCC also designated 10 database administrators. On the TV white spaces standardization side, the standards IEEE 802.22 for rural broadband  was finalized and the IEEE 802.11af for Super WiFi progressed. The former also won the IEEE standards association emerging technology award. The Protocol to Access White Space Datababase (PAWS) by the IETF was also established.

Recently, near the end of 2011, the FCC chairman Genachowski announced two big steps for TV White Spaces. First, Spectrum Bridge‘s TV White Space database system was approved for operation from 26.January 2012, after successfully having conducted a 45 day trial of the system. Second, the first device for operation in TV White Spaces by Koos Technical Services was approved.

Another step is the establishment of the Whitespace Regional Area Network Alliance that promotes the development, deployment and use of standards based products and services as a means of providing broadband services using TV band frequencies. This might especially be considered an important step for IEEE 802.22. It still remains to be seen what happens with IEEE 802.11af in the Wi-Fi Alliance, but it is official that the Wi-Fi Alliance applauds the FCC ruling on TV white spaces.

With these notable steps near the end of 2011, it will be exiting to see what 2012 will bring. We will probably see some commercial IEEE 802.22 networks and maybe some trials with draft-IEEE 802.11af equipment.


Sep 24 2010

5 Most Promising Applications for TV White Spaces

Recently, FCC officially opened for TV white space spectrum, now without the strict requirement of sensing in the terminals. Interestingly, Ofcom in the UK also seem to take a similar approach. There is much discussion about which applications that will be used in the TV White Spaces (TVWS) and trials have been launched among others by Google. Obviously we have rural broadband and super-WiFi, but there are many others. In fact, most generally used applications for wireless communications could potentially be used in TVWS, but the big pros with the TVWS are the great propagation characteristics which provide for great coverage and also the relatively great bandwidths.  However, some applications are more attractive than others when considering commercial and technical aspects. Therefore I provide a ranked list of 5 promising applications in the TV White Spaces:

  1. Wide area coverage in rural areas (e.g. IEEE 802.22): This has great potential since there especially exist much white spaces in the rural areas. Also, TVWS has perfect characteristics for this applications where propagation effects give high ranges and there are relatively wide bandwiths of 6, 7 or 8 MHz in US, Asia and Europe respectively. Broadband to rural areas might therefore be provided very cheap.
  2. Hotspot/low-power broadband (e.g. IEEE 802.11af): Since the much used 2.4 GHz band for WiFi is quite congested in urban areas, IEEE 802.11af also called super-WiFi will probably be used in the unlicensed TVWS. In some urban areas there does not exist much white spaces for high power systems such as (1) above, but there could be potential for low power broadband systems such as for WiFi hotspots that exploit smaller portions of TV white space.  Femto-, pico and micro-cells for wireless broadband in TVWS are other examples, but these are not naturally unlicensed such as WiFi.
  3. Backhaul for WiFi in hotels, campuses, businesses (WiFi could be IEEE 802.11af or IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n): When WiFi is installed in hotels, campuses or business the greatest challenge is often the cabling to provide internet connectivity to the WiFi access points. By using TVWS as backhaul for WiFi access points in such installations we could avoid the costly, time consuming and challenging cabling issues. This is due to the propagation effects in the TVWS where radio signals better penetrates building walls and floors.
  4. Connectivity for security cameras (example):With TVWS it will be easier to install security cameras anywhere with lack of connectivity.
  5. Remote monitoring (power plants, patients, metering, …): Due to the propagation effects of TVWS it will be easy to provide access to power plants far away, and to patients far away and moving around potentially in the basement where signal loss is severe, but connectivity achievable with TVWS.

Other domains of interest for TVWS applications that could be mentioned are ad-hoc networks  (e.g. internal sensor network or mesh network communication), healthcare applications, vehicular communications and cellular networks offloading.

Aug 31 2010

IEEE 802.11af vs. IEEE 802.22

The first cognitive radio standard IEEE 802.22 that started standardization in 2004 approaches its final release after some years of standardization. Why is it going so slow recently and why is there no push from the industry, or are these statements wrong? Is “fixed broadband in rural areas based on cognitive radio” not that attractive to most operators, hence no massive push from the manufacturers to develop equipment.  Is the business case for fixed broadband in rural areas really positive when considering the risk of using access technology based on cognitive radio. Does there exist any initiatives to build an ecosystem around IEEE 802.22? In total, maybe cognitive radio is too immature and uncertain for the industry to make investments. However, it would certainly be interesting to see a realistic business case for IEEE 802.22.

Another standard which emerges is IEEE 802.11af, which will provide services similar to the traditional IEEE 802.11 standard, also known as WiFi when certified by the WiFi alliance. The main difference from the well known IEEE 802.11a/b/g standards is that IEEE802.11af will be a based on cognitive radio for operation in the TV White Spaces, that is the spectrum already allocated to the TV broadcasters and at the same time not used. No big investments are necessarily required in order to install and use a WiFi access point which actually can be done by everyone. The only prerequisite, when the regulatory rules are in place such as in the US,  is the need for an incumbent database that maintains data about used frequencies in the TV band.  Google has already announced that hey want to operate such a database. Rumors also say that WiFi alliance will certify IEEE 802.11af, which then will be WiFi, just based on cognitive radio.

The WiFi alliance which certifies WiFi products will be important for the success of IEEE 802.11af. In contrary, to my best knowledge, no such forums or alliance exist for IEEE 802.22. Maybe WiFi alliance could be the success factor required for the first commercialization of a cognitive radio technology in the TV white spaces, namely IEEE 802.11af. Also, rumors say that IEEE 802.11af only considers the minimum required cognitive functions for the first certified product, thus focus is on getting the standard released ASAP and then get products certified before FCC withdraws the rules. For later releases, more advanced functions could be introduced. This is similar to the IEEE 802.11b/g/n story.

In summary, maybe IEEE 802.11af will be seen commercially before IEEE 802.22 due to the speed of standardization and the ecosystem inherited from the WiFi alliance, even though IEEE 802.22 have existed for many years now. However, IEEE 802.22 should not be left out as it could be more attractive to general mobile networks if the use case and services offered are changed. For example, smaller cells such as micro-, pico- or femto-cells. Also mobility could be included. This would not be the most difficult change I guess. In fact, IEEE 802.22 would then be similar to WiMAX and LTE but with cognitive radio functions and opportunistic access. Such use cases and services could provoke more interests among the industry. Consequently, maybe an alliance or forum could be established for IEEE 802.22, or maybe the total IEEE 802.22 or the main cognitive functions could be adapted by the WiMAX Forum!

Aug 4 2010

Key Experiences on Cognitive Radio from CROWNCOM 2010

The 5th international conference on Cognitive Radio Oriented Wireless Networks and Communications 2010 (CROWNCOM’10) was held in Cannes, France, from 09.06 to 11.06. Many experienced and respected researchers within the field of cognitive radio (CR) and the wireless system community attended the conference such as Joseph Mitola, Ian F. Akyildiz and Peter Olanders to mention some. Several hyper-relevant topics were discussed such as if CR is mature or immature, is CR ready for commercialization, what is happening within standardization, issues in physical resource sharing and what is the way ahead for CR after the first decade of CR research has passed.

Is cognitive Radio Mature or Immature?

Dr. Berna Sayrac from Orange Labs gave the first keynote about CR at orange labs where she at the end of her presentation stated that CR is an immature technology. Ian F. Akyildiz in the next keynote on the other hand, replied directly to this statement and stated that CR is a mature technology. This question was repeated and discussed throughout the conference and it seems that both statements are correct when viewed from different angles, thus Akyildiz may have correct in that cognitive radio is becoming more mature from a research perspective and Sayrac may have correct in that CR is immature from a commercial perspective as seen from the operator Orange’s perspective. Sayrac and Orange also see sensing as the biggest issue to be solved before CR can be commercially mature whereas Akyildiz among many technical issues especially emphasized that more research needs to be carried out on business models for CR.

Challenges in Commercialization of Cognitive Radio

This heading was the topic for a panel discussion where Yukitoshi Sanada (Keio University, Japan), Berna Sayrac (Orange, France), Jens Zander (KTH, Sweden), Peter Olanders (Ericsson, Sweden) and Joseph Mitola (Stevens Institute of Tech., USA) attended. Three prerequisites were listed for the commercialization of CR. First standards have to set the rules and protocols, second regulation has to allow CR operation and finally the business opportunities has to be in place. It was a common understanding that aspects of CR will first of all emerge as embedded functions in the various wireless standards that exist today and when standardization succeeds it will probably be seen in composite cognitive systems addressing cognitive radio and heterogeneous systems.

Olanders ended his presentation by plotting CR and SDR (software defined radio) in Gartners hype curve as illustrated by a reconstructed figure below,  which actually is similar to Nolan’s analysis in 2008. Mitola also agreed with Olanders view on the CR’s technology position between the peak and trough on the hype cycle and stated that this might be good since CR will move from the research era to the commercial era.CR and SDR on Gartners hype curve

Standardization of Cognitive Radio

Several times it was emphasized that CR is not synonymous with opportunistic spectrum access (OSA) or dynamic spectrum access (DSA) even though CR often is being associated with such technologies. CR is also important in heterogeneous networks where a mobile user can select between multiple wireless networks (WiMAX, LTE, DVB, WiFi, ..) and maintain multiple links simultaneously. Standardization of CR is not similar to other wireless systems such as WiMAX and LTE due to the fact that CR might be used within these systems in a heterogeneous manner as well as for secondary access to primary spectrum. Therefore standardization of CR should specify a CR framework instead of a CR system. The most relevant standards for CR mentioned were ETSI RRS, IEEE 802.22, IEEE 802.19.1, ECMA and SCC 41.

IEEE 802.22 has long been the most progressive standard for CR, but the rumor that the progress for this standard has slowed down lately was mentioned several times during the conference. Though Peter Olanders that has long experience within standardization also stated that “you never know, IEEE 802.22 might wake up again!”. The reason for no commercial IEEE 802.22 products or networks so far might be that the business case easily might become negative due to the services expected with distances up to 50 km in rural areas. Hopefully there will also be a focus on the low power portable or mobile applications within IEEE 802.22 in the near future. Another point is the white space database that needs to be in place for white spaces to be utilized in the US, but interestingly Google has announced that hey want to operate such a database. With the rumored speed of standardization in IEEE 802.11af, it will be interesting to see which of these will emerge in a commercial deployment first. However, IEEE 802.22 can be expected to be used by network operators, whereas IEEE 802.11af might be expected to be used by the general public in their homes as traditional WiFi and by network operators.

Lessons Learned

Many interesting subjects and ideas were presented in keynotes, panels and technical sessions at CROWNCOM 2010. Several technical issues were discussed and many discussions were concerned with commercialization of CR. A summary of some key lessons learned are:

  • CR seems to be moving from the research era to the commercial era.
  • Standardization of CR is more about specifying a CR framework instead of a CR system.
  • Three prerequisites were listed for the commercialization of CR: standards have to set the rules and protocols, regulation has to allow CR operation and finally the business opportunities has to be in place.