FCC report opens the door for white spaces devices

An FCC technical report issued Friday makes it look more likely that the US government will sign off on a Google-led pitch to clear the white space spectrum for free use by Android. The news couldn't come at a worse time for T-Mobile.

With Google and a growing number of influential partners putting pressure on the FCC to make spectrum in the white spaces available for "free and open access," a team of FCC technologists on Friday released a report suggesting that worries about wireless interference from so-called white spaces devices -- raised by T-Mobile and other parties -- are overblown.

Essentially, the FCC's report finds that T-Mobile's Advanced Wireless Services-3 (AWS-3) spectrum does not need to be buffered by unused spectrum in order to prevent interference to T-Mobile's emerging 3G commercial wireless network by such devices, which would implement networking services on otherwise unused frequencies.

T-Mobile purchased its AWS-1 spectrum (the 2110-2155 MHz band) for more than $4 billion a few years ago.

Together with AT&T, Nokia Siemens Networks, MetroPCS, and the CTIA, T-Mobile had been arguing that recent FCC tests in Seattle prove that wireless operations in the AWS-3 spectrum -- which run in the 2155-2180 band -- would interfere with mobile devices in T-Mobile's AWS-1 spectrum.

T-Mobile has been fighting off initiatives by the FCC to auction off the currently unused AWS-3 spectrum, by M2Z Networks to offer a nationwide municipal Wi-Fi service on AWS-3, and by Google and an ever growing list of its partners to co-opt unused, "white" spaces in the wireless spectrum for free and open access by the public.

Ironically, though, with its upcoming G1 phone, T-Mobile is slated to start shipping the industry's first Android device for use on its commercial WCDMA network on October 16.

Meanwhile, rumors raged over the weekend that 1.5 million T-Mobile customers have already pre-ordered the G1, a larger number of people than those who ordered Apple's iPhone 3G on its first day. As of this afternoon, however, those reports remained unconfirmed.

In the report released on Friday, FCC engineers said their recent tests in Seattle showed that the AWS-1 spectrum could be used for wireless broadband services "without significant risk of harmful interference" to mobile devices running on T-Mobile's AWS-1 spectrum.

The commission also indicated that, consequently, it isn't necessary -- as T-Mobile had wanted -- to expand AWS-1 to include the spectrum currently allocated to T-Mobile's AWS-3 as some sort of an interference buffer zone.

Opponents to the Google's white spaces plan have included not just T-Mobile, but also the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the wireless microphone industry. These two groups contend that interference will be caused to HDTV and other digital TV signals if mobile devices start operating in currently unused white spaces next to spectrum allocated by the FCC for TV broadcasting.

Three weeks ago, following the New York City launch of T-Mobile's Android-based G1 phone, Google co-founder Larry Page went to Washington, to urge the FCC to hurry up and make a decision about opening up the white spaces before the November elections.

While there, Page also blamed "politics" for earlier FCC test results which indicated that white spaces devices running on Android and Microsoft Windows Mobile platforms do, in fact, cause interference to TV broadcasting equipment and wireless microphones in white spaces adjacent to TV spectrum.

About a week later, two heavyweight industry coalitions -- the BSA, which includes Apple; and the CCIA, which claims Linux distributor Red Hat as a member -- joined the Google-spearheaded Wireless Industry Alliance (WIA).

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