FCC Sets Nov. 4 Vote on White Spaces

Federal Communications Commission Kevin Martin says plans by Google, Microsoft, Intel, Motorola, Intel and other tech companies to use the interference buffer zones between digital television channels to deliver unlicensed broadband will not cause harmful interference to digital television broadcast signals.

White space devices will not cause undue interference with digital broadcasts or wireless microphones, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said Oct. 15. Martin told reporters in a conference call he plans for the FCC to vote on allowing unlicensed use of the spectrum Nov. 4.

Google, Microsoft, Intel, Motorola and other IT companies hope to deliver unlicensed broadband and other advanced wireless services through white spaces, the interference buffer spaces between digital television channels. Broadcasters, along with sports leagues and entertainment venues that use wireless microphones, have adamantly opposed the use of white spaces.

"You can use utilize the white spaces without causing undue interference," said Martin, who added that FCC engineering reports that include testing results on white space devices will be released Oct. 15. "I'm hoping to take advantage of utilizing these airwaves for broadband services to allow for unlicensed technologies and new innovations in that space."

The spectrum between the channels will become available after Feb. 17, 2009, when broadcasters make the switch to digital broadcasting. The FCC began testing white space 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.

If the FCC supports the use of white spaces, device makers such as Motorola could start manufacturing technology for laptops, smart phones, PDAs and set-top boxes that can utilize those white spaces. All of the devices would have to be certified by the FCC.

Martin stressed that any white space device must have sensing technology linked to a geolocation database, allowing the device to detect and avoid broadcast signals. Devices would also be limited to low power levels if used directly adjacent to broadcast channels.

For the interference concerns of wireless microphone users, Martin said several swaths of spectrum would be devoted to those devices and listed in the geolocation database.

"With this endorsement from the technical experts, it's time to shed the outdated standards that have placed the public airwaves under lock and key," Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, said in a statement. "We urge the FCC to move forward with policies that will increase competition and innovation, paving the way for this revolutionary new wireless marketplace."

Martin's white space announcement marks the second major wireless news out of the FCC this week. An engineering report released Oct. 10 concluded that two-way broadband service in the 2,155MHz to 2,180MHz advanced wireless services band will not cause harmful interference to wireless services of other carriers.

Click here to read more about the FCC free wireless broadband proposal and how wireless carriers reacted.

That report clears the way for the FCC to move forward with a spectrum auction in 2009 that would require the winning bidder to provide a free wireless broadband tier to 50 percent of the United States in four years and 95 percent of the country within 10 years.