FCC lays new rules for devices working in the 'white spaces' between TV stations

As expected, today's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) meeting introduced new rules about "white space" adoption that allows unlicensed wireless devices to operate in the spectrum between broadcast TV stations.

The legislation to free up these bits of spectrum for unlicensed usage has been in debate for more than three years, and the Second Memorandum Opinion and Order adopted today by the FCC addresses some technical and legal issues in their implementation.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski today said, "We know from experience that unlicensed spectrum can trigger unexpected but hugely beneficial innovation.  For example, years ago, there was a band of low-quality spectrum that was lying fallow.  Nobody could figure out what to do with this so-called 'junk band,' so the FCC decided to free it up as unlicensed spectrum."

"When we last addressed white spaces on November 4, 2008, a momentous day in many ways, we left too many questions unresolved about the use of white spaces within the broadcasting spectrum," commissioner Michael J. Copps said today.  "A lot has changed since then, including a focused commitment to ensuring that every American has access to affordable, value-laden, opportunity-creating broadband.  Now we finally resolve the difficult questions and set ourselves on a course to unleash the tremendous potential of the white spaces."

Today's order revises rules laid down in the first R&O from 2008. One of these was the requirement for spectrum-sensing capabilities:

"Broadcasters contend that spectrum sensing alone is
inadequate to protect against interference to broadcast operations and that sensing must be combined with geo-location/database access to ensure that low power devices do not operate inside the protected service contours of co-channel or adjacent-channel TV stations."

Geolocation and database access are still in the order, but mandatory spectrum sensing has been abolished.

Wireless microphones, such as those used in Public Address systems have been in an unusual position since the 700MHz UHF band went to telecommunications companies in 2008. Some very popular wireless systems were placed right in the middle of wireless traffic, making them either useless or seriously unreliable.

Today's order reserves two vacant UHF channels for these microphones and other low power auxiliary service devices across the country. But events that need more bandwidth will have to register with the FCC's TV band database, and they will be granted all available wireless channels from 7 to 51. This registry will be publicly available, so concerned parties can weigh in on propositions.

"Recognizing the importance of licensed wireless microphones to electronic news gathering and the reality that many venues-- Broadway theaters, sports arena, churches and schools-- have come to rely on unlicensed wireless microphones, we have gone to great lengths to accommodate their needs," commissioner Copps said today. "I believe that this approach will not only ensure adequate spectrum for both wireless microphones and white spaces devices, but also encourage wireless microphone manufacturers to make much-needed improvements to equipment efficiency and interference resistance."

Microsoft's Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie applauded the FCC's ruling today. "With this vote, the commission is taking a forward-looking view of how to optimize spectrum allocation by capitalizing on evolving technologies," Mundie said. "As a result, technology companies will be able to develop new applications that tap into the potential of white spaces networks. On Microsoft's own campus in Redmond, Wash. a prototype 'White-Fi' system delivers more economical broadband Internet access for employees traveling between buildings on the campus. The FCC's decision will create opportunities for American companies to remain at the forefront of technological innovation."

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