FCC To Commence Second White Space Database Trial Wednesday

WASHINGTON: Despite the uncertain future of the availability of TV spectrum, another test is queued up for further filling it with unlicensed transmissions. Telcordia Technologies has been approved for a white space database trial. The test marks the second one conducted by the Federal Communications Commission to assess the efficacy of databases for protecting TV signals from interference by unlicensed devices. The 45-day trial commences Wednesday.

Telcordia’s test follows one for Spectrum Bridge of Lake Mary, Fla., which concluded Nov. 2. The results were opened to comment, with replies due today. The trials are part of the FCC’s white spaces proceeding, which started before the Obama Administration proposed to reallocate 40 percent of the TV spectrum for broadband. A related bill moving through the House provides no particular protections for white spaces in a reduced TV band.

White spaces, once known as “taboo channels,” were traditionally left open to prevent interference between analog TV signals. Digital signals are considered less vulnerable, thus the FCC is opening taboo channels for use by a new breed of unlicensed personal electronics devices.

The databases are supposed to track and log all licensed operations in the spectrum dedicated to television, including full- and low-power TV stations, translators, broadcaster auxiliary services, cable headends, private land-mobile radio, offshore radio telephone, certain radio astronomy and wireless microphone sites. Unlicensed devices—which are not yet commercially available—will have to ping a database to find open frequencies.

FCC rules “require that unlicensed TV band devices contact an authorized database system to obtain a list of channels that are available for their operation…. Such devices are required to provide their geographic location, by means of a secure Internet connection, to a TV band database system authorized by the commission. The database will then return a list of the channels available for operation by the device for its reported location.”

The FCC said that parties may participate in the trial by going to an online test facility set up by Telcordia and activated on Wednesday at 12:01 a.m. EST.

The commission encourages participants to test Telecordia’s channel availability calculator and its receive site registration utilities for cable headends, satellite, BAS, fixed unlicensed devices and wireless mics. Inaccuracies and errors are to be reported to Telcordia on the trial website. The trial will conclude Jan. 20 unless the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology decides to extend it. Once the trial is complete, Telcordia will compile a report for the FCC.

Telcordia was one of nine companies conditionally approved by the FCC in January to provide white-space database management services, and the second to have its technology go to trial. A tenth—Microsoft—applied late and won approval in July.

Telecordia Technologies of Piscataway, N.J., specializes in telecommunications software and support. It reported sales of $739 million for 2010 and was purchased by Stockholm, Sweden cellphone service provider, Ericsson, last June for $1.2 billion cash. The deal is expected to close this quarter.

The other companies conditionally approved as white space database administrators include Mountain View, Calif., search giant Google, Comsearch of Ashburn, Va.; Neustar of Sterling Va.; Key Bridge Global of McLean, Va.; KB Enterprises of Washington, D.C.; Frequency Finder of Toccoa, Ga.; and WSdB LLC, which listed no headquarters. The company’s listed website also appears inoperable.

The FCC first put out its call for database managers in November 2009. It revealed the nine applicants a year later and granted them conditional approval in January because final rules were issued after the proposals were submitted. The designees were expected to file supplemental information on their original proposals, but the FCC said each had sufficient “technical expertise” for the task, as well as viable five-year business plans. The companies will be allowed to charge fees for “fixed TVBDs and temporary broadcast auxiliary fixed links.

~ Deborah D. McAdams