FCC Reveals Plan for Unlicensed 'White Space' Devices

September 14, 2006
The FCC has released its plan for allowing unlicensed transmitters to operate on vacant TV channels. If things stay on schedule, consumers will be able to buy these devices immediately after analog TV is shut off in February 2009. Broadcasters and other users of UHF TV spectrum, including two-way radio licensees and users of wireless microphones, have been concerned about potential interference and have opposed the FCC's proposals for unlicensed devices on TV channels.

The FCC's Public Notice (DA 06-1813) wasn't all bad news for the current users of the TV band. "The record before the Commission does not contain sufficient information to adopt final technical rules for operation of unlicensed devices in the TV bands," the commission said.

The plan calls for a First Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making to be released next month. This would start the process for allowing these devices. The plan provides an additional year for the release of the Second Report and Order, which would specify the final technical requirements for unlicensed devices allowed in the TV spectrum. During the next year, FCC laboratories will conduct measurements of the interference rejection capabilities of DTV receivers, including set-top boxes. Results are scheduled to be made available July 2007.

In December 2007, the FCC will begin accepting applications for certification of unlicensed devices operating in TV spectrum. Once an application has been reviewed and found to comply with the rules, the manufacturer can begin shipping product to distribution points. Finally, in February 2009 the products will be available for retail sale.

One of the issues the FCC will have to consider in drafting the rules is whether stricter out of band emission limits are needed to prevent interference such as that depicted in the MSTV video Your Neighbor's Static. While manufacturers such as Intel have said their devices will have lower spurious signals than those allowed under existing Part 15 rules, not all manufacturers may see it worth the cost to do more than current rules require. Another potential contentious issue is techniques the devices would use to avoid interference. The FCC appears to be favoring a system requiring reception of a control channel with a database of available channels before allowing transmission. More technical details will be available after the First Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making is released next month.

The NAB said this week it has been working diligently with the Senate Commerce Committee on the unlicensed devices issue, along with the FCC. "We are pleased the FCC has taken the sensible position of ensuring that these devices will be tested rigorously, and that no marketplace introduction will occur until after broadcasters complete a successful transition to digital television," the NAB said.

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