As the Federal Communications Commission finishes field testing white spaces devices to determine the practicality of tapping the unused spectrum between digital television channels, Google has launched a public campaign to promote unlicensed use of the airwaves.
This unused spectrum-known as white spaces-is provided to broadcasters to create interference buffer zones. Google, Microsoft and other tech companies want the spectrum to deliver broadband and other advanced wireless services, while the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) is adamant in its opposition to the operation of unlicensed devices in the buffer zones.
The differences between the groups have created a war of words and intensive lobbying on Capitol Hill, and Google's Free the Airwaves site, launched Aug. 18, is the search giant's latest attempt to influence public policy. The site asks users to sign a Google petition supporting the use of white spaces and urges advocates to spread the word.
"Today more than three-quarters of those radio airwaves, or 'white space' spectrum, are completely unused," the Google site states. "This vast public resource could offer a revolution in wireless services of all kinds, including universal wireless Internet."
Google co-founder Larry Page said in May, "This is a huge opportunity to get connectivity to the American people, particularly in rural areas. I think it will make a huge difference to everybody."
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.
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.
"It worked as well as we said it would," Steve Sharkey, Motorola's senior director of regulatory and spectrum policy, said Aug. 7. "It went really well."
Google and the other tech giants supporting the use of white spaces face opposition from more than the broadcasters. 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 microphones.
"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.