Wednesday, November 5, 2008

U.S. FCC Approves White Spaces Unlicensed Spectrum

The FCC adopted rules to allow wireless devices to operate in unused broadcast television spectrum, commonly referred to as television “white spaces”. These rules will allow for the use of unlicensed devices in the unused spectrum to provide broadband data and other services for consumers and businesses.

These rules represent a first step to and include safeguards to protect incumbent services against interference. Devices must include a geolocation capability and provisions to access over the Internet a data base of the incumbent services, such as full power and low power TV stations and cable system headends, in addition to spectrum sensing technology. The data base will tell the white space device what spectrum may be used at that location.

The locations where wireless microphones are used, such as sporting venues and event and production facilities, can be registered in the data base and will be protected in the same way as other services. The Commission also has required that devices include the ability to listen to the airwaves to sense wireless microphones as an additional measure of protection for these devices.

All white space devices are subject to equipment certification by the FCC Laboratory. The FCC will permit certification of devices that do not include the geolocation and data base access capabilities, and instead rely solely on spectrum sensing to avoid causing harmful interference, subject to a much more rigorous approval process.

The FCC will oversee and monitor the introduction of TV white space devices and will promptly remove any equipment found to be causing harmful interference. The FCC will explore whether higher powered unlicensed operations might be permitted in TV white spaces in rural areas.

This ruling potentially has major ramifications. It makes it much easier and much less expensive to set up a wireless service. It is not necessary to win spectrum in an expensive auction. A service provider only needs to purchase appropriate equipment.

There is a large amount of white spaces spectrum that is available. It is possible for multiple service providers to operate without interfering with each other, even in dense metropolitan areas. Spectrum sensing will prevent them from interfering with each other.

It is likely that these services will have a major effect on ADSL services. It is likely that a white spaces wireless data service will be very competitive with a 3 Mbps ADSL service. This will drive the wireline carriers to fiber technologies.

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