FCC approves white space use

Today, the FCC voted 5-0 to permit the use of unlicensed wireless devices in so-called “white-space” frequencies. This is spectrum currently not being used for OTA broadcasting because of channel assignments, interference protection and adjacent channel issues.

Sometimes called “the super Wi-Fi band,” the spectrum represents the first release of unlicensed spectrum in 25 years. Leading tech companies including Google, Microsoft, Dell and HP have long advocated for the use of the white-space frequencies. While many original proposals were to simply expand Wi-Fi services, new proposed applications include smart metering, backhaul, in-home networking and the establishment of larger Wi-Fi hot spots.

The matter of allowing transmitters in these formerly quiet blocks of spectrum has been a long-term concern for both broadcasters and the NAB. The NAB previously sued the FCC over white-space rules. In response to today’s FCC action, said Dennis Wharton, NAB executive VP communications, “NAB's overriding goal in this proceeding has been to ensure America's continued interference-free access to high-quality news, entertainment and sports provided by free and local television stations. We look forward to reviewing the details of today's ruling."

All four commissioners and the chairman were enthusiastic in their support for the “innovation.” “When we unleash American ingenuity, great things happen,” said chairman Genachowski. He previously claimed that the use of white spaces could generate as much as $7 billion a year.

The adoption of the FCC’s second Memorandum Opinion and Order resolves several previous legal and technical issues. They include:

• No requirement that TV band devices that incorporate geo-location and database access must also incorporate sensing technology for TV station signals or low-power auxiliary service stations (wireless microphones).

• Wireless microphone users seeking to register in the TV bands databases must certify that they will use all available channels from 7 through 51 prior to requesting registration.

• Database registration requests will be public, which will allow interested parties to comment on any given request.

One other important component in the regulations is that the Order reserves two vacant UHF channels for wireless microphones and other low-power auxiliary service devices throughout the United States. It also specifies the separation distance between TV white-space devices and wireless microphone usage permitted to be registered in the database.

The issue of who will administer the frequency database has yet to be resolved. The final decision will be made by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology.