Google puts its data-crunching powers to use mapping white spaces spectrum

Google(s goog) on Monday began trialing a new kind of database. This one isn’t tallying ad impressions or tracking websites. Instead this database is cataloging white spaces spectrum, the unused airwaves in between TV channels that one day could be used for wireless and even mobile broadband links.

The reason such a database is key is because the TV spectrum in question has to be allocated dynamically. When a broadcaster or other licensed user is present, nobody else can touch it. Such databases, which have been or are being developed by Ericsson(s eric), Microsoft(s msft), NeuStar(s nsr) Spectrum Bridge (see disclosure) and several others, would create central repositories detailing which airwaves are available for white space broadband use at any given moment or location. Devices capable of transmitting in the white spaces airwaves would check those databases on a regular basis and pick their transmission channels accordingly.

Google is building its database – which is currently being tested by the FCC — as you would expect Google to build any data tool, as a browser-based app that allows anyone to search the white spaces in their area. Here’s what the channel map in my neck of the woods, Chicago, looks like:

Google White Spaces Database Chicago screenshot

The different colors represent the concentration of broadcasters in different airwaves. As you can imagine, Chicago is a pretty cluttered market when it comes to TV stations. But as you move outside of the cities, more channels clear up, which is one of the reasons a principle focus of white spaces broadband is on rural underserved areas. This search centered on Rockford, Ill., shows that contrast between Chicago’s and Milwaukee’s crowded airwaves and the large swathes of white spaces in rural Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa:

Google White Spaces database Midwest screenshot

Google may have more interest in white spaces than becoming a simple database administrator. Lately Google has sought permission to conduct a bunch of wireless technology trials using mysterious gear that hasn’t yet made it into any commercial network. I’ve postulated that Google is experimenting with the idea of a heterogeneous network, or HetNet, that combines advanced Wi-Fi, super-dense cellular clusters and largely unlicensed airwaves. If that proves to be true, then white spaces could be a key component of its strategy.

DisclosureSpectrum Bridge is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.