FCC allows use of wireless devices in 'white space'

October 16, 2006

The FCC voted unanimously last week to allow fixed, low-power wireless devices to operate on vacant spectrums between active TV channels as long as they don’t cause interference.

However, the commissioners have limited the devices at first to fixed rather than mobile, and have not yet decided whether the devices will require a license.

The FCC invited comment on whether low-power devices should be permitted on TV channels 2 to 4, which are used by TV interface devices such as VCRs, and whether fixed low-power devices can be permitted on TV channels 14 to 20.

At least for now, the FCC is forbidding mobile devices to operate on channels 14 to 20, used for public safety in 13 cities, and on channel 37, used for radio astronomy and wireless medical telemetry services.

On the controversial issue of licenses, the commission noted that a majority of the commenters have expressed interest in operating low-power devices in the TV bands on an unlicensed basis. It wants comments on “the relative benefits” of both the licensed and unlicensed approaches.

TV broadcasters are worried that unlicensed devices will make it difficult to trace any sources of interference to their digital signals. However, major computer makers, including Intel, have lobbied the FCC to make the so-called “white space” spectrum available license-free for much needed high-speed Internet services.

A cautious FCC said it was “developing a complete record to ensure that the final rules will protect TV broadcasting and other services against harmful interference.” In addition, the FCC said it planned to conduct extensive testing itself to assess the potential interference from low-power devices operating in the TV bands.

The Media Access Project, a consumer group that has advocated freeing the spectrum for public use, praised the FCC’s approach.

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