With an unprecedented demand for mobile devices and services expected in
the near future, the scramble is on for the one thing all cell phones,
PDAs, iPhones and other wireless devices need: spectrum.
But outside of the much anticipated January 700 MHz auction, the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) isn’t planning on selling anymore
spectrum at this time. Tech hopes to change that with several proposals
now pending before the agency.
From the interference buffer zones between television stations to space that some claim is underutilized and could be used for wireless broadband
services, new “smart” radio technology and other innovative ideas are
prompting the FCC to reevaluate its spectrum policies.
White spaces fall into gray regulatory area
Although broadcasters are allocated hundreds of megahertz of spectrum in
every U.S. television market, significant chunks are unused, serving as
buffers against interference from other channels. In Boston and Chicago,
for instance, almost 50 MHz is fallow.
Technology companies such as Microsoft and Google hope to use these
interference buffer zones, known as “white spaces,” to develop both
licensed and unlicensed wireless devices and services. Licensed use
could include delivering wireless broadband.
The interference buffers were once considered necessary because older
technologies required more space between the television
channels. But the White Spaces Coalition, which includes Microsoft, Dell
and HP, claims new technology allows for the use of the
space between the channels without interference to the broadcasters.
According to the coalition, technology exists that scans for TV channels in
use and jumps to unused spectrum in the white spaces. To prove the
point, Microsoft in March submitted a prototype model to the FCC.
Microsoft claims the device tested by the FCC was broken and a second
device, also in the FCC labs, works well.
“Coalition members are encouraged that FCC engineers did not find fault
with our operating parameters and remain confident that unlicensed
television spectrum can be used without interference,” the group said in
a statement. “In fact, in its report, the FCC stated that ‘the bench test
results indicate that under laboratory conditions, this device is
generally able to reliably detect DTV signals.'”
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) pointed to the FCC report
as proof the device doesn’t work.
“FCC testing results confirm what NAB…and others have long contended:
that the portable, unlicensed devices proposed by high-tech firms can’t
make the transition from theory to actuality without compromising
interference-free television reception,” NAB Executive Vice President
Dennis Wharton said in a statement.
To the disappointment of the NAB, however, the FCC said it was still
open to the possibilities of using white space spectrum. “The devices we
have tested represent an initial effort and do not necessarily
represent the full capabilities that might be developed with sufficient
time and resources,” the report states.
Even before Microsoft submitted its prototype, the FCC was interested in
white spaces technology, contending that broadcasters’ original fears of
interference are perhaps unjustified in a technological age that
includes smart radio transmitters and receivers.