IT Powerhouses Concoct New White Spaces Group

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2007-12-13 Print this article Print

IT powerhouses mount new campaign to exploit vacant spectrum between television stations.

WASHINGTON—Beset with preliminary technical woes and a lack of political traction in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission, a new organization started up on Dec. 12 to promote the unlicensed use of interference buffer spectrum between television channels. The Wireless Innovation Alliance, a coalition of technology companies, public interest advocates, think tanks and higher education groups, said it hopes to work with Congress and the FCC to develop regulations for the use of the spectrum known as "white spaces." Although broadcasters are allocated hundreds of megahertz of spectrum in every U.S. television market, significant chunks are unused, serving as interference zones from other channels. In Boston and Chicago, for instance, almost 50 MHz is fallow. The unused spectrum is considered ideal for wireless broadband because the radio signals penetrate walls and other objects.
Google, Microsoft and other tech firms covet the spectrum as an alternative to telecommunications and cable companies delivering Internet connections. A group led by the companies known as the White Spaces Coalition has been unsuccessfully lobbying Washington all year for approval of unlicensed white spaces devices.
With many of the same players from the coalition in attendance Dec. 12, the new Wireless Innovation Alliance promised a new push. Click here to read more about the efforts by Microsoft and Philips Electronics test devices that use white space frequencies. "Much as telephones, radios and TVs revolutionized telecommunications in previous generations, white space devices will transform every aspect of civil society," Michael Calabrese, vice president of the New America Foundation, said at press conference at the National Press Club. "White space devices provide an innovative platform for a new generation of technologies, services and applications." Broadcasters, though, adamantly contend unlicensed use of white spaces will create harmful interference with their signals. In August, FCC testing on a white spaces prototype device created interference with television signals. "It is unfortunate that Microsoft and Google continue to try to muscle their way through Washington in support of a technology that simply does not work," Dennis Wharton, the executive president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said in a Dec. 12 statement. "By playing Russian roulette with digital television, Microsoft and Google would completely undermine the historic public-private DTV partnership that broadcasters embraced to ensure America's ongoing leadership in innovation." According to the FCC, "Prototype white space devices submitted to the commission for initial evaluation do not consistently sense or detect TV broadcast or wireless microphone signals." The August FCC report concluded the first prototype was "generally unable" to sense wireless microphones while a second device delivered "mixed results." By September, Microsoft and Philips Electronics submitted a new device for FCC testing. "In over 1,000 measurements, made in many varied locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California, the test devices were 100 percent successful in detecting television stations' [signals]," Microsoft said in a Sept. 21 statement. Microsoft and Philips said in the FCC filing that their finding "significantly expands previous testing beyond the laboratory to the field, further confirming that unused TV spectrum can be used to bring the benefits of high-speed Internet access to more Americans, without interference to the signals of incumbent licensees." Even with better test results, the new alliance faces an uphill battle in Congress. At last count, seven senators and 69 House members were opposed to the unlicensed use of white spaces. Check out's Mobile & Wireless Center for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.

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