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Spectrum News: White Space, Wireless Cameras and Broadband

This week the Wall Street Journal and other news sources reported FCC officials visited Microsoft in Redmond, Wash. to examine an experimental network using TV "white spaces" on April 28. FCC representatives included Charles Mathias, Legal Advisor to FCC Commissioner Baker, Paul de Sa, Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, and Zachary Katz, Deputy Chief of OSP; it appears no FCC engineers were invited. According to an ex parte notice filed by Microsoft, "During the meeting, Microsoft demonstrated its experimental campus-wide 'White-Fi' network, which operates using TV white spaces spectrum. In particular, Microsoft demonstrated how unlicensed white spaces spectrum enables wireless broadband uses, including accessing high quality video content over medium-range distances that are difficult to achieve using unlicensed spectrum at higher frequencies." Microsoft also demonstrated licensed wireless microphones could be protected using database technology without disruption to the wireless microphone or white space operations.

In the United Kingdom, it looks like there isn't as much demand for broadcast spectrum, at least in the 2 GHz band, as there is elsewhere. An article in The Register, Ofcom hands out free radio spectrum says the 2010-2025 MHz band was supposed to have been auctioned off with 2.6 GHz frequencies in 2008, but the auctions were delayed by legal actions. When the UK government released its Digital Britain document, it ignored the 2010-2025 MHz band. The article says, "Thanks to that, and general decline in interest, Ofcom reckons no one wants the band so has published a consultation to confirm that." The Register notes the band is already used for wireless cameras covering events and "Ofcom reckons releasing 2010 MHz will allow an additional couple of cameras to link up."

The Ofcom Consultation, Release of 2010-2025 GHz [PDF] is open until June 21, 2010. The Consultation states, "In all circumstances, we believe we should make the band available for use for wireless cameras at the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in specific locations on a temporary basis." The term "wireless cameras" refers to electronic news gathering (ENG) and outside broadcast use similar to the uses of the 2 GHz broadcast auxiliary band in the U.S. Ofcom licenses wireless cameras in the 2025-2110 MHz band.

Australia is pursuing its own national broadband plan and it appears to be focusing on fiber-to-the-home more than wireless, even though there is a plan to buy back broadcast spectrum. The article What's fast in theory and will cost a big bundle? by Malcolm Colless in The Australian reviews the situation down under. Referring to a McKinsey-KPMG implementation study costing over $25 million, the article says, "But while the study relegated emerging high-speed mobile-wireless technologies to a complementary role alongside the fibre cable backbone, Conroy has offered hundreds of millions of dollars in rebates to the TV networks to take back broadcasting spectrum, which he plans to sell off for next generation mobile networks to secure a multi-billion-dollar digital dividend for the government." I would argue that with an extensive fiber network, perhaps they could use much higher frequencies to deliver much higher data rates (see this week's article on wireless networking at 60 GHz) to reach portable computing devices without using the limited bandwidth available in the UHF TV band.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.