FCC set to allow "white space" broadband after two-year wait

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to approve the use of so called "white spaces" -- or unused bandwidth freed up by the transition from analog to digital television signals -- for use in wireless broadband at its September 23 meeting.

While the technology would finally gain the FCC's full blessing, it is likely years before any actual implementation is seen. Regardless, the opportunities it provides to speed up the rollout of broadband across the country excites those who have been working hard to make the technology a reality.

In an interview with the New York Times this weekend, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski lauded the move as a "platform for innovators and entrepreneurs," and said he believed it could lead to "one or more billion dollar industries." It also fits perfectly with the Obama Administration's National Broadband Plan, its stated goal being more accessible high-speed Internet.

Spectrum in these bands would be opened up with no licensing fees for their use, similar to the way Wi-Fi has been licensed. Since the frequencies at which white space broadband operates are much lower than Wi-Fi, wireless signals would be able to travel over a much further distance: essentially "Wi-Fi on steroids."

Not everybody is on board, however. Broadcasters have opposed the idea almost from the get go, with the National Association of Broadcasters arguing that white space broadband could lead to interference of television signals.

The FCC attempted to counter this opposition by mandating that any device include technology to "scan" for open airwaves before transmitting, which should limit interference, in its initial approval of the technology two years ago.

That left some supporters of white spaces unhappy as they argued the technology would drive up the cost of implementation -- something the FCC now appears to have acknowledged. Although not confirmed, the rule may be dropped when the new set of rules are released.

Instead of technology with the devices, a frequency database could be polled to select open bandwidth. Devices could then be made location-aware, and use the database to figure which frequency would prevent any interference to television or other wireless signals that may be operating in these bands -- wireless microphones being the most prominent of them.

Google is working on building such a database, although it said it would move aside for another company if the FCC selects someone else to build and maintain it. Microsoft has already built its own database, which was used for an experimental white space network which only used two base stations to cover its entire 500-acre campus.

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