Microsoft Renews Wireless White Spaces Push

Microsoft and Philips claim new testing shows no interference between unlicensed broadband use and television channels.

Based on a new round of field trials, Microsoft and Philips are asking the Federal Communications Commission to renew testing on devices that can access the Internet using empty buffer spectrums—known as white spaces—between television channels.

Microsoft and other members of a powerhouse group of technology companies called the White Spaces Coalition covet the spectrum as an alternative to telecommunications and cable companies delivering Internet connections. Broadcasters, in particular, are opposed to the concept, fearing unwanted and harmful interference with their signals.

In July, the FCC put a damper on the whole idea when it said testing on a prototype supplied by Microsoft failed to consistently sense or detect TV broadcast or wireless microphone signals. The White Spaces Coalition said the FCC inadvertently used a defective device.

In new testing, though, Microsoft and Philips claimed success.

"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, based in Redmond, Wash., 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."


Click here to read more about the FCCs new rules for digital TV.

Hundreds of megahertz of spectrum are allocated to broadcasters in every U.S. television market. Big chunks of the spectrum, though, are unused, serving as interference barriers. In Boston and Chicago, for instance, almost 50MHz is fallow.

"We encourage the FCC to pursue its own field measurements to corroborate our successful testing, even though it may require the commission to extend its timeline for approving these devices for a couple of months," Microsoft and Philips wrote in the FCC filing.

The FCC, in Washington, is expected to issue its white spaces findings as early as October, although the agency said in July its unsuccessful testing on the Microsoft prototype did not preclude an ultimate positive ruling on unlicensed use of the spectrum.

"The devices we have tested represent an initial effort, and do not necessarily represent the full capabilities that might be developed with sufficient time and resources," the FCC report stated.

The National Association of Broadcasters blasted the Microsoft and Philips findings.

"Its ironic that a company with a track record of developing less-than-perfect products is now claiming to have invented a device that functions with 100 percent accuracy," NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said in a Sept. 21 statement, in Washington. "While frustrated users of Microsoft products have come to expect routine system errors and computer glitches, they do not expect the same to hold true for broadcast television service."

The NAB stood behind the FCCs July findings.

"As was shown in the FCCs July test results, the devices proposed by the White Spaces Coalition do not function as advertised," Wharton said. "They do not detect broadcast signals, and they do interfere with TV reception."


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