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FCC moves on to field testing of white space devices

After considerable delay, the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) has moved its testing of unlicensed white space devices (WSDs) from the lab into the field. With a continued heavy push toward allowing such devices from technology companies and most of the commissioners on the record as supporting such an outcome, this is a critical period in the ongoing battle for spectrum space. The current round of field tests are scheduled across various Maryland and Washington, D.C., sites during the next several weeks, including everything from sports venues to private residences.

From the perspective of broadcasters, the paramount issue is protecting consumers from interference by unlicensed devices. The wireless audio products industry is also concerned, because the white spaces between broadcast channels have been used for RF microphones and monitoring systems for many years. A plethora of political action organizations on both sides of the issue have fueled the debate, which has noticeably escalated during this election year.

The testing has consistently produced disagreement between broadcasters and WSD supporters over the results themselves. Most recently, after the initial field test of its device last week, Motorola claimed a successful outcome for its geolocation database system, while a broadcaster organization, the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV), focused on less-than-perfect sensing test results.

The FCC has struggled to remain neutral amid such partisan opposition, but has consistently maintained its traditional support for the protection of licensed broadcast signals and stating that its decision on the fate of the remaining white space spectrum would be based on scientific fact-finding, a view heartily endorsed on all sides of this complex issue.

Mark Brunner, spokesperson for wireless manufacturer Shure, stated that “thorough and well-designed field testing will allow the commission to meet its commitment to consider the scientific evidence of whether the proposed technology solutions will protect incumbent users from interference. All stakeholders will be best served by data that is both comprehensive and meaningful."

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