Is the white-space idea up in flames?

Microsoft obviously is just a software company, and no more so has that been demonstrated than in the FCC white-space testing process. Evidently all of the prototype devices it submitted to the FCC for testing malfunctioned. One overheated after 12 hours of use.

That failure has given a significant amount of ammunition for those opposing white space services. Namely the Association of Broadcasters (NAB) back in February used it to say that the testing process itself was a failure. Microsoft, Google and the White Space Coalition have been trying for some time to quash what it calls the NAB's rhetoric designed to confuse the facts about the FCC's testing.

During Supernova, a technology conference being held in San Francisco this week, Microsoft's Ian Ferrell tried to make light of the situation. "If you read the press, you would have thought the FCC was in flames and people were running out the door with their skirts over their heads,"Ferrell said in an article from The Register.

Microsoft claims that despite its company's own device failures, the FCC now has enough testing information to declare that these devices can operate in white space spectrum without interference. The FCC, however, says not so fast. It is embarking on another round of testing, this time in the field.

Despite the fact that the commission highly advocated white-space spectrum in the past, the whole issue has become quite political with not only the NAB, but with the professional sports community, entertainers, hospitals and the wireless carrier industry. It appears the FCC now has a cautious approach vs. the belief early on that the commission was just going to rubber-stamp this through--especially when one hears about Microsoft's devices failing during testing.

The FCC now realizes it has to take a long and thoughtful approach to how it might allow unlicensed white-spectrum devices. As FCC spokesman Rob Kenny told The Register, "This is an ongoing process ... We will make a decision to move forward [with this white space idea] if there's a possibility of doing this without doing harmful interference to licensed use of the spectrum."

That doesn't sound nearly as hopeful as Microsoft. The reality is that much to the chagrin of Microsoft and Google, we won't likely see any approval this year or even early next year. While the commission was hoping white spaces would provide another avenue to offer more broadband competition, the issues surrounding the spectrum seems to get more complicated by the day. Any move without significant and thorough testing could prove to be disastrous. Even when the FCC makes its decision about white-space spectrum, we're going to see challenges from a plethora of companies that could likely delay any services in that spectrum. The bottom line is: Don't count on this super WiFi service anytime soon.--Lynnette