FCC Approves Use of White Spaces

Dismissing the interference concerns of broadcasters and professional audio and communications equipment makers, the FCC unanimously approves the unlicensed use of fixed and portable devices in the white spaces spectrum used by television stations and wireless entertainment interests as interference buffer zones. All devices must include geolocation capability and the ability to access an Internet database of the incumbent services' signals in addition to sensing technology to detect the operation of wireless microphones.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin proclaimed the dawn of a new era in wireless innovation Nov. 4 as the agency unanimously approved rules for the unlicensed use of the "white spaces" between digital television signals. The spectrum will become available after the Feb. 17 digital television transition and will be available to both fixed and portable devices.

Television broadcasters have combined with a wide and powerful array of entertainment interests to block unlicensed use of the spectrum, currently used by wireless professional audio and communications equipment and as interference buffer zones by TV stations, for more than six years. Even Dolly Parton sang the white spaces blues for the FCC.

"I fully expect that everything from enhanced home broadband networks to intelligent peer-to-peer devices and even small communications networks will come into being in TV white spaces," Martin said, giving credit to "consumer groups, technology leaders and Internet pioneers" for their advocacy.

Google co-founder Larry Page rushed to be one of the first to praise the FCC decision.

"I've always thought that there are a lot of really incredible things that engineers and entrepreneurs can do with this spectrum," Page wrote on Google's public policy blog. "As an engineer, I was also really gratified to see that the FCC decided to put science over politics. For years the broadcasting lobby and others have tried to spread fear and confusion about this technology."

The FCC said the rules contain numerous safeguards to protect incumbent services against harmful interference. Any unlicensed device using the spectrum must include geolocation capability and provisions to access over the Internet a database of the incumbent services. The database tells the white spaces device what spectrum may be used at that location.

As an additional layer of interference protection, the FCC has also required that the unlicensed devices be able to sense wireless microphones. All devices will need equipment certification from the FCC.

"The rules adopted by the Commission establish a framework for enhanced wireless communications by building on a proven concept: the safe deployment of new, intelligent devices in the unused spectrum that exists between television channels," Martin said.

Martin added that the recently concluded testing at the FCC proved the agency's commitment to protecting licensed, incumbent services.

"Normally, the Commission adopts prospective rules about interference and then certifies devices to ensure they are in compliance," Martin said. "Here, we took the extraordinary step of first conducting this extensive interference testing in order to prove the concept that white space devices could be safely deployed."