Jeers, Cheers Over FCC White Space Report

Wireless players and mobile Internet device makers are cheering a Federal Communications Commission report that could pave the way for the use of unlicensed white space within the broadcast spectrum.

The expected approval by the FCC at its next meeting in November could help usher in a new generation of gadgets and connected devices using faster networks. Broadcasters, however, are saying not so fast.

The report focused on whether “white spaces,” the term to describe parts of the spectrum that will be available after broadcasters move to digital broadcasting, would interfere with other broadcasting signals and networks.

The FCC’s Office of Engineering Technology (OET) released a 149-page technical report yesterday detailing its tests and said it found no major interference problems.

The vacant spectrum will be created as broadband analog spectrum is converted to digital next year.

Technology giants such as Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) have lobbied for using the “white spaces” for wireless devices.

The Wireless Innovation Alliance (WIA) said it is delighted that the report indicates no interference issues related to white space use. By the time the FCC puts the issue to a final vote on election day, Nov. 4th, devices that can operate in the spectrum could already be on the drawing board.

Broadcasters weren’t so pleased. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) today questioned whether support for white space devices is contradicted by key findings in the FCC’s report.

The NAB pointed to the “stark contrast between the Executive Summary’s upbeat endorsement of unlicensed devices that preceded a more pessimistic 149-page report” it said in a statement.

“It would appear that the FCC is misinterpreting the actual data collected by their own engineers,” said NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton. “Any reasonable analysis of the OET report would conclude that unlicensed devices that rely solely on spectrum sensing threaten the viability of clear television reception. Basing public policy on an imprecise Cliffs Notes version of a 149-page report raises troubling questions.”

The Wireless Innovation Alliance contends that vacant space within high quality TV broadcast spectrum has gone underutilized for decades, and can be used to provide rural community Internet access, improve emergency response communications and offer advanced broadband capabilities to mobile device users.

Already, Phillips is working on devices that could provide WiFi-like high definition video in homes, as well as advanced video streaming technologies that would depend on white spaces, according to Philips research staff member Monisha Ghost.

“Development plans are ready to get devices up within a year and a fair amount of new technologies,” Ghost said during the conference call today.

According to Thomas, players in the white space broadband product and services industry would use a similar business model to today’s WiFi market.

Phillips is just one of many tech titans happy with the FCC decision. Microsoft has called the regulatory group’s action an “important milestone” for enabling new services and products.

“Clearly the FCC’s internal work and its test process has provided enough information, guidance and technical input to move the process forward in allowing unlicensed use of the white spaces,” Anoop Gupta, corporate VP, technology policy and Strategy, Microsoft, said in a statement yesterday.

“We urge the commissioners to come to a decision quickly and adopt rules that will allow all Americans to realize the full and enormous potential white spaces have to expand broadband access.”

Wireless providers are not as happy.

“We urge the commission to license a portion of the TV white space for fixed, point-to-point uses as all mobile broadband networks, unlicensed and licensed, rely on backhaul infrastructure and fixed licensed point-to-point systems often can provide cost-effective Internet backhaul,” Scott Sloat, corporate communications, Sprint, told

The NAB contends that white spaces have a key role to play. “They were designed to protect the signal, and these slivers of spaces keep channels from bleeding over into each other,” Kris Jones, spokesperson, NAB, told

Free Press, a public advocacy group and Wireless Alliance member, rebuts the NAB’s position.

Ben Scott, policy director, said white space will benefit everyone, noting that in some regions more than three-quarters of the broadcast spectrum is currently unused.

“Unlicensed devices make efficient use of the airwaves because they’re low-power and smart enough to detect and avoid other broadcasters and services,” Scott said in a statement.

“This isn’t about one industry versus another. The real value of unlicensed white spaces isn’t in the devices of today, it’s in their future potential to connect all Americans to a fast, affordable, open Internet.”

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