FCC One Step Closer to Freeing Up Unused ‘White Space’ Spectrum

AIRWAVES—The Federal Communications Commission today announced that it has made an important step toward opening up a significant block of airwave spectrum for unlicensed use by freeing up “vacant airwaves between TV channels—called ‘white spaces’—to unleash a host of new technologies, such as ‘super Wi-Fi,’ and myriad other diverse applications.”

Specifically, the Commission adopted the Second Memorandum Opinion and Order (Second MO&O), in the process resolving numerous legal and technical issues.

“Notably,” the Commission said in a prepared statement, “the Order eliminates the requirement that TV bands devices that incorporate geo-location and database access must also include sensing technology to detect the signals of TV stations and low-power auxiliary service stations (wireless microphones). It also requires wireless microphone users who seek to register in the TV bands databases to certify that they will use all available channels from 7 through 51 prior to requesting registration.”

The Commission said it will also take steps to protect incumbent services from interference from the use of white space by reserves two vacant UHF channels for wireless microphones and other low power auxiliary service devices in all areas of the country, and by maintaining a reasonable separation distance between TV White Space device and wireless microphone usage permitted to be registered in the database. This last assurance was made in light of threats of a lawsuit from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which was concerned about white space interference with existing TV and wireless radio signals.

“TV white space spectrum,” the announcement continued, “is considered prime real estate because its signals travel well, making it ideally suited for mobile wireless devices. Unlocking this valuable spectrum will open the doors for new industries to arise, create American jobs, and fuel new investment and innovation. The National Broadband Plan noted the importance of unlicensed spectrum in creating opportunities for new technologies to blossom and recommended that the Commission complete the TV white spaces proceeding as expeditiously as possible.”

This is just the first step in a process to make the unused spectrum available for public use on an unlicensed basis, and comes after years of lobbying by companies such as Google, Microsoft, Dell and others to free it up for public use. In a statement posted to its policy blog today, Google lauded the move.

“[FCC] Chairman Genachowski and his fellow Commissioners deserve ample credit for adopting rules that ultimately will put better and faster wireless broadband connections in the hands of the public,” wrote Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel for Google. “We’re glad to see that the FCC appears to have rejected calls to enact burdensome and unnecessary constraints that would have made it more difficult to deploy useful technologies on these airwaves.”

Whitt said the next step is for the FCC to name “one or more administrators of the geo-location database, and establish the ground rules for its operation,” hopefully sooner rather than later, so that new tools and devices can be quickly developed and rolled out.

According to CNET, the rollout of unlicensed white space spectrums could lead to a freeing up of unused licensed spectrum, 90 percent of which is underutilized.

“What's happening with TV white space is really the FCC's first attempt at trying to make more efficient use of underused spectrum,” said Joe Hamilla, chief operating officer at Spectrum Bridge, a company that runs an online spectrum license exchange.

CNET also noted that Chairman Genachowski expressed optimism that the “new unlicensed spectrum will help create a robust ecosystem,” similar to the one that has developed around Wi-Fi.

"This new unlicensed spectrum will be a powerful platform for innovation," he said. "When we unleash American ingenuity, great things happen."

Stay tuned.

The FCC announcement can be read here.