Motorola's combination of geolocation and sensing technologies performed well in FCC testing, Motorola officials say. Devices by Philips, Adaptrum and InfoComm are also being tested as Google, Microsoft, Motorola and other IT companies hope to exploit the digital television transition by delivering wireless broadband in the empty spectrum between digital television channels.
Motorola said Aug. 7 its geolocation device operated successfully in the Federal
Communications Commission's ongoing white spaces field trials. White spaces are
the unused interference buffer spaces between digital television channels that
a number of tech companies want to use to deliver unlicensed broadband
The spectrum between the channels will become available after Feb. 17 when
broadcasters make the switch to digital broadcasting. The FCC began testing
white spaces devices with mixed results in January using a prototype device
supplied by Microsoft. In July, the agency moved the tests outdoors using
devices from Motorola, Philips, Adaptrum and InfoComm International.
"It worked as well as we said it would," said Steve Sharkey,
Motorola's senior director of regulatory and spectrum policy. "It went
Motorola's device was the only one using both geolocation and sensing
technologies, while devices from Philips, Adaptrum and InfoComm relied only on
sensing to detect existing TV channels. Motorola primarily relied on combining
geolocation with an FCC database of channels to find spectrum in the white
spaces that would not interfere with existing TV channels.
"That was one of the key things for us," Sharkey said. "It
[the device] knows what's in the area [and] what channels to use and picks out
the best channel. From our point of view, geolocation has to be part of the
The testing was conducted in a variety of conditions including a regional
park in the Washington-Baltimore area, BWI Airport, downtown Washington and
Ellicott City, Md. Sharkey said tests of the devices using only sensing
technology "went well but missed some channels."
Sharkey said using the geolocation mode provided "Absolute, solid
[interference] protection ... the device knew what to avoid."
Motorola will not be involved in the next stage of outdoors testing, when
the FCC begins testing for interference with wireless microphones. In a May
1 filing with the FCC, the National Football League, Major League Baseball,
the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, the National Basketball
Association, the National Hockey League, the National Collegiate Athletic
Association, the PGA Tour and ESPN all opposed the use of white spaces, fearing
interference with their wireless mics.
"These devices could knock out wireless communications systems like
headsets used by coaches and officials, microphones used by referees to
announce penalties and calls, and microphones used by journalists to conduct
interviews with athletes and coaches," the coalition contended.
Sharkey, though, said the problem could easily be solved with beacons for
the microphones that a white spaces device would detect and avoid.
When the FCC concludes the outdoors testing, the agency will then prepare a
report and make overall recommendations on the use of white spaces devices. If
the FCC supports the use of white spaces, device makers like Motorola could
start manufacturing technology for laptops, smart phones, PDAs and set-top
boxes that can utilize the white spaces. All of the devices would have to be
certified by the FCC.
"It's really ideal spectrum for rural broadband and we see uses in
land-mobile applications," Sharkey said. "We view white spaces as
somewhat similar to Wi-Fi. When it was first approved for use, no one knew all
the applications, devices and form factors that would evolve."
Opposition to the use of white spaces is led not only by sports leagues but
also the NAB (National Association of
Broadcasters), which fears interference, and some lawmakers who want the white
spaces spectrum to be auctioned off the highest bidder.
"NAB has no quarrel with field
tests, but based upon multiple failures of unlicensed devices in laboratory
testing thus far, we remain highly skeptical that this technology will ever
work as advertised," the NAB said in a
July 7 statement.
Verizon added its voice to the debate Aug. 8 when Verizon
Executive Vice President Tom Tauke told reporters in Washington, "Generally we have favored licensed
spectrum." Tauke added, however, "Presumably, somewhere down the
line, there will be technology that develops that potentially could use white
spaces without interference. So we have to be open to that potential and look
at what is the appropriate policy."