Sans Microsoft, White Spaces Field Trials Begin

Microsoft, Google, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other tech powers hope testing on Motorola and Phillips devices will lead to unlicensed use of television interference buffer zones for the delivery of wireless broadband. The earliest white spaces devices could be used is February 2009, when broadcasters are scheduled to abandon their analog signals as part of the digital television transition.

The Federal Communications Commission began field-testing July 14 several white spaces devices that the tech industry hopes will eventually lead to a new wireless broadband pipe into American homes and businesses. White spaces are the empty interference buffer spaces between television channels.

The white spaces devices submitted for testing by Motorola and Phillips use sensing technology similar to cognitive radio communications. Tech powers such as Google and Microsoft want to the use the television channel interference buffers to deliver unlicensed broadband and other advanced mobile services.

But broadcasters claim the use of white spaces will lead to interference with their broadcasts and the sports leagues fear the use of the spectrum will cause problems with wireless microphones, which already operate in the disputed spectrum. The CTIA, the principal voice of the wireless carrier industry, wants the spectrum to be licensed and sold to the highest bidder at auction.

"Given the extensive information gathered by the FCC as well as the work done by the FCC, we expect the FCC to move forward with their final order immediately after this round of testing," said Jake Ward, a spokesperson for the Wireless Innovation Alliance. "Our members stand ready to work with the FCC to resolve any outstanding questions and deliver the benefits of white spaces technologies to consumers."

Ward and the Wireless Innovation Alliance can only hope the field trials go better than the lab testing of white spaces devices submitted by Microsoft. In July of 2007, the FCC said testing on the Microsoft equipment failed to consistently sense or detect TV broadcast or wireless microphone signals. The agency began a second round of testing that resulted in a Microsoft device losing power.

"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 National Association of Broadcasters said in a July 7 statement.

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.

"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 contends.

White spaces proponents countered that the debate is still very much on, pointing out that the problem was an unrelated power issue, not interference. "To be clear, the Microsoft device successfully tested both digital DTV signals and wireless microphones," Brian Peters, a spokesperson for the Wireless Innovation Alliance, said in a statement.

Ward added that the FCC decision to advance testing to field trials proves "what we have known all along, white space technology works, and as a result, the FCC continues to move the process forward."

The earliest white spaces devices could be used is February 2009, when broadcasters are scheduled to abandon their analog signals as part of the digital television transition.