FCC approves unlicensed white space use

The FCC, in a long-awaited move, approved the use of unlicensed white space spectrum, clearing the way for new classes of devices that take advantage of what has been dubbed "super WiFi."

The FCC voted 5-0 to approve the plan, nearly two years after the agency first approved the use of white space spectrum--the tiny slivers of spectrum between TV broadcast stations. The 2008 order, which came under former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, was delayed by lawsuits from broadcasters, church groups and singer Dolly Parton, all of whom argued such use of the spectrum could interfere with TV stations and wireless microphones.

With the new vote, the FCC handed a victory to Google, Microsoft, Dell, Motorola (NYSE:MOT) and other companies that have been pushing for the spectrum to be unleashed. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the vote will provide "unique opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs."

"This new unlicensed spectrum will be a powerful platform for innovation," Genachowski said during the FCC's meeting. "And as we've seen time and again, when we unleash American ingenuity, great things happen." Genachowski also noted that this is the largest expansion of unlicensed spectrum in more than two decades, when WiFi was first introduced. Devices using white space spectrum are still years away from wide commercial availability, however.

Still, concerns remain. The National Association of Broadcasters said it is reviewing the order. Further, the FCC still must decide which entity will manage a database that white space devices will have to check to determine whether they will interfere with broadcasters. To placate some concerns, the FCC set aside two channels in the lower portion of the spectrum for wireless microphones.

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), meanwhile, said it is pleased the FCC set aside some white space spectrum in rural areas for backhaul, but said it is still not enough. "Backhaul drives up costs, and while the possibility of opening up licensed wireless backhaul presents opportunities in some of the country's most rural white spaces spectrum, this is a far cry from the comprehensive backhaul reform necessary to drive down exorbitant backhaul costs, which ultimately constrain services for consumers," Sprint said in a statement.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Washington Post article
- see this Kansas City Business Journal article

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