PSREC begins experimental 'white space' program

Diana Jorgenson
Portola Editor

There are a limited number of frequencies available in airwaves, and what to do with them is the concern of the Federal Communications Commission. Currently, the FCC is considering usages for the UHF/VHF band left vacant with television’s transition to digital.

Plumas Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative’s Lori Rice, chief operating officer for the Communications Division, would like to see “white spaces (named for the “snow” screen that shows up on television when there is no station assigned to that channel) used for rural areas. Originally, she said, UHF was meant to benefit rural areas and she would like to see it continue — albeit, for entirely new uses.


The FCC is considering a number of alternative, and probably multiple, uses for these remaining frequencies and hopes to reach a decision as to appropriate usages later this summer.

In the meantime, a number of experimental licenses have been issued to study potential uses and PSREC has one of them. The local cooperative is one of the first in the nation to begin trial implementation of a “smart grid” wireless network trial.

The trial is in partnership with Spectrum Bridge Inc., a Florida company that services wireless service providers and equipment manufacturers. Spectrum Bridge’s database technology underlies the white spaces trial network and allows it to operate without causing interference to television stations.

PSREC is using the bandwidth technology to communicate with several of its electrical substations along Highway 70. Using the white space frequency allows PSREC to access substation data, manage power flow and protect the system while maintaining the local grid.

PSREC and Spectrum are also testing a couple of houses in the Cromberg area for Internet capabilities from the trial wireless network. Future usage of white space frequencies includes the ability to provide high-speed Internet in areas not currently served because of mountain terrain and tree density.

Rice explained, “Plumas, Lassen and Sierra counties are located in the Sierra Nevada and present some very technical challenges with respect to wireless coverage. The ability to use white space has proven to be an effective option for dealing with difficult terrain and offers another option for wireless connectivity.”

Although not part of the current testing, the possibility exists to network PSREC’s current Internet offerings and even out loads and usage, thereby increasing effectiveness as well, said Neeraj Srivastava, Spectrum Bridge vice president in the Business Division

The experiment with PSREC, implemented in June, is the third white space experiment put into motion. The first started in September 2009 in Claudville, Va., and was designed to utilize white space frequencies to supply broadband Internet to the residents in a town that only had dial-up service until that point.

The second Spectrum Bridge experiment was with the city of Wilmington in North Carolina, which is using the technology to monitor infrastructure, remotely read devices to monitor water quality, for security cameras at city parks and playgrounds, and whatever else the city can think of.

The city used to send a guy out in a boat once a week to pick up the readings, Srivastava explained, but now it can read them remotely and in real time.

The PSREC experiment is the third. In addition to managing usage of its electrical grid, the co-op looks to white space technology to fill in those pockets that are difficult to service with other Internet technology, said Rice. “That’s where it will shine.”

The experiment has one other element, in partnership with Google Inc. Using Google’s PowerMeter technology, consumers can measure their electrical usage and even monitor detailed energy consumption remotely, online.

“This project demonstrates the incredible potential of this spectrum to revolutionize not only wireless communications but also rural energy,” said Rick Needham, director of Green Business Operations at Google.

The license to conduct the experiment does not guarantee PSREC will operate the frequency on anything other than an experimental basis, nor does it imply the FCC is obligated to make any provisions for continuing the project, but it does ensure PSREC has input into the FCC’s deliberations this summer.

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