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FCC OKs white space tech, adds safeguards

Wed, 11/05/2008 - 7:35am
Brian Santo

The FCC okayed the Sprint-Clearwire merger and Verizon’s acquisition of Alltel (story here), and it also approved the controversial white space proposal, despite it’s own tests determining that the technology interferes with broadcast TV, cable TV and wireless microphones.

The FCC ordinarily allows time for review of its test findings, but on white space technology, the Commission rushed a vote, according to critics who also charged the report’s favorable summary contradicted the data it contained.

The FCC’s official release justified its haste without actually referencing the complaints by saying the new rules on white space transmission represent a “careful first step to permit the operation of unlicensed devices in the TV white spaces and include numerous safeguards to protect incumbent services against harmful interference.” 

The proposal for unlicensed use of white space – the unused space between broadcast TV channels – is predicated on having white-space devices sense what parts of the spectrum are being used by licensed broadcasters, and automatically select a portion of the spectrum away from those bands to avoid interference.

Commissioner Michael Copps in his statement asserted outright what the Commission as a whole only hinted at: “This approach, right now, is not ready for prime time.”

So the FCC mandated the creation of a database of all licensed broadcasters, and that devices making use of any white space network must include a geolocation capability and the ability to reference the database – all in addition to spectrum-sensing technology.

Devices that can demonstrably avoid creating interference will not have to incorporate geolocation capability, nor reference the database. The FCC assured the testing would be rigorous, and that applications to be relieved from the geolocation provisions will be subject to public comment.

White-space equipment has a demonstrated propensity to interfere with wireless microphones. The FCC said that wireless microphones will be protected in a variety of ways. Venues using wireless microphones will be able to enter into the database. The Commission said it also has required that devices include the ability to listen to the airwaves to sense wireless microphones as an additional measure of protection for these devices.

The FCC said all white space devices will be subject to equipment certification by the FCC Laboratory.

The Commission vowed to closely oversee and monitor the introduction of TV white space devices, and to “act promptly to remove from the market any equipment found to be causing harmful interference and will require the responsible parties to take appropriate actions to remedy any interference that may occur.”

According to Commissioner Robert McDowell, “All avenues of modification and improvement remain open.”

Some have proposed that white-space technology also be licensed. Copps’ response was that the public benefits from a mix of licensed and unlicensed technologies. The FCC has recently auctioned off more than 150 MHz of licensed spectrum, Copps noted, and the unlicensed white-space technology balances that.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said white-space technology offers hope for the so-called “third pipe,” something that can compete with phone and cable companies (which Copps referred to as a duopoly).

FCC Chairman Martin called the approval a victory for consumers and a promise of “Wi-Fi on steroids.”

White-space equipment vendor Motorola noted that power limits have been imposed on TVWS devices to ensure there is no interference to television signals and other permitted users within the television band.

This is some comfort perhaps, but CED has reported that even low-power signals have the potential to cause interference (story here).

More Broadband Direct:

• Time Warner Cable gives voice to 21% 3Q profit

• FCC OKs Clearwire merger, Verizon's Alltel buy

• FCC OKs white space tech, adds safeguards

• FCC investigating cable TV pricing policies

• OpenTV gains more Comcast Spotlight markets

• Knology increases Q3 revenue

• Lawsuit slams Sprint over ETF fees

• NDS Group deploys with 2 providers in India

• Google pulls out of Yahoo partnership

• Broadband Briefs for 11/05/08

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