White space devices might appear in 2009, if FCC directive is clear

By the end of next year, white space devices ranging from HDTV home video systems to self-organizing wireless meshes for rural connectivity will probably hit the market...or maybe not, WIA members said today.

White space device advocates from Motorola, Phillips, and other organizations said in a press teleconference today that if, as expected, the US Federal Communications Commission approves free access to unused spectrum on November 4, vendors will be ready with new white space devices about a year later, after a period of testing and certification.

However, product availability could get pushed back if the FCC isn't clear enough with its implementation guidelines, or if the TV broadcast and wireless microphone industries challenge the FCC's decision, panelists suggested.

As previously reported in BetaNews, the WIA -- a rapidly growing group of computer industry vendors and telecom providers -- has been lobbying the FCC hard for free and public access to the "white spaces" in-between existing licensed spectrum.

Together with Ben Scott, policy director for the Free Press advocacy group, and Ed Thomas, former chief engineer for the FCC's Office of Engineering Technology (OET), the vendors held today's press event following the release of a controversial report by the OET.

In the report, the FCC engineers indicated that, despite equipment problems in field trials by Microsoft and Google, worries about wireless interference from white spaces devices -- also raised by Google's Android partner T-Mobile -- are overblown.

Reporters peppered the panelists today with questions around a wide range of white spaces-related topics: what kinds of white space products and services to anticipate, the ubiquity of bandwidth, and whether the white space devices will actually cause interference.

"You can think of [white spaces spectrum] as Wi-Fi on steroids," said Thomas, elaborating that the spectrum provides capabilities around signal penetration and propagation not present in Wi-Fi.

Vendors will create white space devices that are based on their own proclivities, predicted Thomas, who is now a consultant to both the White Spaces Coalition -- a sister organization to the WIA -- and some of its members.

While stating that she can't speak specifically for Philips' white spaces plans, Monisha Ghosh, principal member of the research staff at Philips, said a number of companies are looking at producing wireless HDTV home entertainment systems based on white spaces spectrum, in hopes of more consistent HDTV picture quality on wireless home networks.

Motorola, on the other hand, wants to use white space spectrum for wireless mesh equipment that will do a better job of extending broadband access to rural areas, said Steve Sharkey, Motorola's senior director, Regulatory and Spectrum Policy.

For this purpose, Motorola already sells its Canopy line-up, which operates in the unlicensed bandwidth. But the propagation characteristics of white space spectrum will "add better distance," he said.

The ubiquity of white space services will depend on the extent of implementation, Thomas told reporters. As with Wi-Fi, there will be gaps in coverage.

As a general consensus, the panelists agreed that wireless services using white space spectrum won't necessarily be free to consumers. But since use of the spectrum is free to providers, any subscription-based services should be lower-priced to users than existing offerings.

Thomas acknowledged that white space devices can interfere with TV broadcasting equipment, although he also said that problems would typically occur only around "earlier vintage" TVs and cables that haven't been grounded. properly. But "the only one who is technically unbiased is the FCC," he contended.

"The FCC's consultation is that there's a way through this," Thomas advised. "What they haven't done [yet] is to say what way."

A directive around white spaces implementation is expected about a month after the FCC's decision on November 4, assuming that the commission rules in favor or opening the white spaces.

Meanwhile, officially unreserved spectrum should not be turning into a "high tech vs. broadcasting" battleground, according to Scott, who maintained that the Free Press started advocating for public access to the white spaces spectrum long before Google or any other computer vendors.

Opening up the spectrum was originally aimed at reducing the cost of the wireless infrastructure so as to "expand access to consumers," said Scott. "Fast forward, new content and services evolve, which get out broadband adoption numbers up, which in turn leads to economic growth and social welfare."

The National Association of Broadcasters and wireless microphone industries strongly oppose this initiative, arguing that use of mobile devices in the white spaces will cause interference with TV broadcasters.

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