White space debate won't be resolved with field testing

If you thought the debate over white space spectrum was going to be settled through the field tests the FCC is conducting, think again. As field testing wraps up, we once again don't know who to believe--the companies who submitted prototypes and declared them a success or the opponents who said the prototypes failed in the field.

The FCC is conducting the tests to see whether the devices that access unused television airwaves, called "white spaces," will interfere with television broadcasts. Companies such as Google and Microsoft want to use this spectrum to develop new mobile communications devices. However, the initiative has raised the ire of the National Association of Broadcasters, which argues that "white space" devices may interfere with existing television broadcasts, as well as users of wireless microphones.

Last week, Steve Sharkey, Motorola's senior director, regulatory and spectrum policy, told FierceWireless that the FCC has just finished most of the outdoor white space device testing and that Motorola's white space device, which used geolocation technology, did very well in the tests. Philips has said the same thing, indicating that its devices correctly identified occupied and unoccupied channels via sensing technology, although not necessarily the same ones each time, according to TVTechnology.com.

All of the tests have been open to the public, and apparently open to interpretation. Verizon Communications Executive Vice President Tom Tauke told Broadcasting & Cable that so far nobody's devices have passed the FCC's white space testing requirements. Verizon has been outspoken in its objection to letting companies use white space spectrum for wireless devices. Tauke says that the company favors licensed spectrum.

Shure, a leading manufacturer of microphones, says the FCC's tests of white-space prototypes at FedEx field prior to Saturday's game between the Redskins and the Buffalo Bills conclusively showed that spectrum-sensing white-space devices "will cause harmful interference to wireless microphones during live events," said Mark Brunner, Shure's senior director of public and industry relations. "Simply stated, the prototype devices were unable to consistently identify operating wireless microphones or distinguish occupied from unoccupied TV channels. More troubling, the devices failed to detect the presence of wireless microphones when switched on--an occurrence that takes place multiple times during any NFL game."

Brunner added that there is no reason to believe that further technology enhancements such as beacons would help solve the interference problem. "These tests reveal fundamental deficiencies of sensing devices--issues that cannot be pushed off with a promise to resolve these problems at some later time during certification testing," he said.

When the FCC concludes the outdoors testing, the agency will prepare a report and make overall recommendations on the use of white-space devices. And whatever side the report favors, you can bet this issue will be far from being resolved given not only the strong opposition but also the commission's strong desire to see white space devices usher in more broadband competition. --Lynnette