FCC unanimously approves unlicensed white-space devices

The FCC voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the unlicensed use of TV white space spectrum for wireless applications and devices but added some conditions under which the devices would have to operate to prevent interference.

The white-space spectrum, which sits between airwaves licensed to TV broadcasters, has been the subject of debate with companies such as Google, Microsoft and Motorola lobbying the FCC heavily for approval, saying unlicensed use of the spectrum would unleash super WiFi networks that have greater scope than today's WiFi systems. Broadcasters and wireless microphone users such as entertainers and professional sports groups adamantly oppose its use. An FCC engineering report recently OK'd the use of white-space devices.

The conditions the FCC imposed includes requiring both fixed and portable devices to include geolocation capabilities and use an FCC database of TV signals and location of venues such as stadiums and churches that use wireless microphones. These database and geolocation capabilities would, in theory, prevent  interference with broadcast TV stations and wireless microphones and ensure compliance with FCC rules.

The FCC did not approve devices that used spectrum sensing technology only, but did say that these devices could be approved at a later date if they would undergo additional certifications, including proof-of-performance tests. These tests would be public and public comment could be made on them.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has vehemently opposed the sole use of spectrum sensing technology, and with good reason. The technology has failed testing. But the association has also been filing petitions and drumming up support for public comment on the FCC's recent technical report on white space testing.

"Fortunately, today's vote is just the beginning of a fight on behalf of the 110 million households that rely on television for news, entertainment, and lifesaving emergency information," said NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton in a statement. "Going forward, NAB and our allies will work with policymakers to ensure that consumers can access innovative broadband applications without jeopardizing interference-free TV."

The FCC said all white-space devices would be required to obtain individual FCC approval, and could be shut off if they interfere or are found to have manufacturing flaws. Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate dissented in part on the measure, and expressed concern that the process for dealing with potential interference issues was too vague.

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