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The FCC Gives a Green Light To Use of the White Spaces

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The FCC Gives a Green Light To Use of the White Spaces
September 23, 2010
By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

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The Federal Communications Commission “FCC (News - Alert)” today made a long-awaited decision to free up vacant airwaves between TV channels – referred to as “white spaces” to be available for new technologies such as the so-called “super WiFi (News - Alert).” The decision will release the first significant block of spectrum for unlicensed use in more than 20 years.


After its decision, the FCC noted that “TV white space spectrum is considered prime real estate because its signals travel well, making it ideally suited for mobile wireless devices. Unlocking this valuable spectrum will open the doors for new industries to arise, create American jobs, and fuel new investment and innovation. The National Broadband Plan noted the importance of unlicensed spectrum in creating opportunities for new technologies to blossom and recommended that the Commission complete the TV white spaces proceeding as expeditiously as possible.”

Signals that use the white spaces spectrum travel at least three times further than signals transmitted over other unlicensed spectrum, such as WiFi. This means it can cover an area that is almost nine times as large as one that uses WiFi, and because it operates at a much lower frequency than WiFi, it can penetrate buildings much more easily: hence the appellation “super WiFi.”

Which makes the decision very, very popular for companies in the business of selling devices for entertainment and communications.

Many companies have been so confident in the decision that they have begun developing products expected to work in the white spaces. Dan Reed, Microsoft's (News - Alert) corporate VP for technology strategy and policy, recently told the Wall Street Journal that after the FCC finalizes its rules for the use of the white-spaces spectrum, Microsoft devices that use the spectrum could be widely available for consumers within as few as two years.

The company is reportedly developing basic blueprints for white-spaces devices that may include mobile phones and laptops. "We're certainly in discussions about standardizing hardware specifications for white spaces," said Reed.

Microsoft is not the only company with plans to launch white spaces devices. Google (News - Alert), Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Motorola are all reportedly testing white spaces products.

Not everyone is overjoyed about the decision, however. Television broadcast companies, under the umbrella of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), lobbied against the release of the white spaces spectrum, fearing that future devices could disrupt existing television signals. Organizations that use wireless microphones were also concerned about the possibility of interference.

The new ruling, however, includes a provision that all future white spaces devices must have built-in geo-location capabilities that will allow the device to cross reference its location with a database of licensed spectrum users in the area as a way of preventing interference.

What the FCC excluded, however, was a proposed requirement that devices that incorporate geo-location and database access must also include sensing technology to detect the signals of TV stations and wireless microphones. Since wireless microphones will not be included in the database of licensed spectrum users, the FCC has reserved two vacant UHF channels for wireless microphones and other low-power auxiliary service devices in all areas of the country.


Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Stefanie Mosca

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