Washington - Nov 4, 2008 - The FCC adopted a second report and order that establishes rules to allow new wireless devices to operate in broadcast television spectrum on a secondary basis at locations where that spectrum is considered to be open. This TV spectrum is commonly referred to as television white spaces. The adopted rules will allow for the use of these new unlicensed devices in the unused spectrum to provide broadband data and other services for consumers and businesses.
According to the FCC's press release, the ruling is part of the FCC's "continuing efforts to promote efficient use of spectrum and to extend the benefits of such use to the public." The release went on to add:
"The rules represent a careful first step to permit the operation of unlicensed devices in the TV white spaces and include numerous safeguards to protect incumbent services against harmful interference. The rules will allow for both fixed and personal/portable unlicensed devices. Such 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 FCC states that wireless microphones -- the most common use of these so-called white spaces -- will be protected in a variety of ways. 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 Laboratory will request samples of the devices for testing to ensure that they meet all the pertinent requirements.
The Commission also 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.
In a process that will be open to the public, applications will be released for public comment prior to agency action. Such devices will be tested by the FCC's Laboratory to a proof of performance standard both in the lab and in a variety of real-world environments to ensure they do not cause interference to licensed services when in use. The staff report and recommendation will also be released for public comment. For now, certification of any such device will require approval by the full Commission.
Manufacturers may continue to provide additional information to the commission to support the use of higher power devices in adjacent channels. In addition, the commission will explore in a separate notice of inquiry whether higher-powered unlicensed operations might be permitted in TV white spaces in rural areas.
The Commission will closely oversee and monitor the introduction of TV white space devices. The Commission will act promptly to remove from the market any equipment found to be causing harmful interference and will require the responsible parties to take appropriate actions to remedy any interference that may occur.
All five commissioners issued statements on the ruling. Chairman Kevin Martin said that allowing new users into the spectrum will create a "Wi-fi on steroids." He added that the technology being allowed in the spectrum builds on a "proven concept" of "safe deployment of new, intelligent devices in the unused spectrum that exists between television channels."
Martin also added, "We do so without disrupting TV services, wireless microphones, or other permitted uses of this spectrum. I have always said that opening the white spaces must be conditioned on protecting primary spectrum users from interference."
The other commissioners had similar remarks, and all except for Commissioner Taylor Tate fully support the action.
Deborah Taylor Tate's statement noted her disappointment that the action does not take more specific steps to address higher-power fixed operations in rural areas, noting that the appended notice of inquiry is just too little, too late. She also notes that the ruling makes it difficult if not impossible to allow anything other than unlicensed use in the white spaces of the roughly 300MHz spectrum. She is not convinced that all of the spectrum in channels 2 to 51 needed to be made available for unlicensed use.
The commission has placed a great deal of faith in the auto-sensing technology and geological database. The auto-sensing tests previously conducted were a complete failure, and a database function will only be as good as the data, which will likely not be well maintained. The FCC has also placed a great deal of faith in the enforcement bureau to police the ruling. While the enforcement bureau is competent, it has been shown many times that the bureau does not have the resources to handle all the duties that it is supposed to cover.
Several groups opposed allowing unlicensed use in the white space, including wireless mic manufacturer Shure. In a statement, Shure said that it is concerned that the Commission did not reserve an appropriate number of channels for flawless operation of wireless microphone equipment and did not address several important issues necessary to ensure a robust geolocation-based database for protection of large scale events, as the company had proposed.