FCC to Open White Space Spectrum

Daily Wireless has the news that is sure to please advocates such as Google, Microsoft, and Motorola:

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said today that he will support allowing conditional unlicensed use of the so-called “white spaces” television spectrum. During a press conference, Martin said that he was proposing to let carriers and other vendors deploy devices in white space spectrum which operates unlicensed at powers of 100 milliwatts.

His proposal would also permit use of white space on channels adjacent to existing television stations at powers of up to 40 milliwatts. The FCC is planning to officially vote on whether to allow unlicensed white space use during its Nov. 4 meeting pdf..

Martin said portable devices must have sensing technologies as well as a geo-location database. This would make sure the devices would be able to detect nearby broadcasts in order to avoid those frequencies.

Companies such as Google that are part of the Wireless Innovation Alliance are asking for the white spaces to be unlicensed and open to all.

Here’s a video from the Washington Post on testing mobile devices that use the white space spectrum:

So what exactly is white space?

White space in telecommunications refers to unused frequencies in the radio waves portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

National and international bodies assign differing frequencies for specific uses, and in some cases license the rights to these. This frequency allocation process creates a bandplan which in some cases for technical reasons assigns white space between used bands to avoid interference. In this case, while the frequencies are unused they have been specifically assigned for a purpose.

In an opinion piece over at TVTechnology,  Frank Beacham argues that white space is an incredibly valuable public resource that could provide wireless broadband access for as little as $10 a month:

 Vacant space in TV Channels 5-51 is perfectly suited for cheap WiFi and other unlicensed wireless services. Failure to take advantage of this publicly owned resource would not only be an enormous waste, but eventually allow the spectrum to be tied up for far less noble purposes.

NAB lobbyists would have you believe that the use of wireless devices in these vacant slices of spectrum would cause interference and threaten the transition to terrestrial digital broadcasting. Sports leagues think the devices might cause static on wireless microphones and coaches’ headsets.

Perhaps they are right about the interference, at least at this early stage of the technology. But what doesn’t work now can be made to work. Sensors can detect which frequencies in an area have no usable TV signals and a device’s transmission can be limited to prevent it from interfering with occupied channels….


The NAB, [Ben Scott, policy director of FreePress, a nonpartisan group advocating an open, independent media] said, is engaged in “a campaign of misinformation” to persuade Congress and regulators to ignore the huge potential of unused public airwaves. “In some communities, more than three-quarters of these ‘white spaces’ are vacant,” he said. “The social and economic benefits of utilizing these unused airwaves far outweigh the shortsighted fears of the broadcast industry.”

By using “false assumptions and twisted facts,” Scott said, the NAB is attempting to collapse the entire white spaces debate into a single test of prototype devices at the FCC.

Scott, as well as the high-tech companies advocating the unlicensed use of white space, argues that the FCC’s initial tests actually demonstrated the viability of the smart sensing technology to reduce interference. The tests are being used as a bogeyman in the public lobbying campaign.

It is dangerous, Beacham writes, to allow technical obstacles to cloud the big picture—which is setting important policy as to how a valuable public resource is to be used.

What do you think?