In 2008, after years of largely ignoring pleas to open up the "white space" -- gaps in the spectrum between television channels, for wireless broadband use -- the Federal Communications Commission on November 4 decided to at last open the gates to this unused space. Electronics giants like Google and Microsoft hailed the decision as a great victory.
Google's co-founder Larry Page states, "I've always thought that there are a lot of really incredible things that engineers and entrepreneurs can do with this spectrum. As an engineer, I was also really gratified to see that the FCC decided to put science over politics. For years the broadcasting lobby and others have tried to spread fear and confusion about this technology."
Unfortunately, the FCC tied the measure to open white space into the digital television switchover bill, with TV providers being required to simultaneously turn off analog, switching to digital, and at the same time opening up their white spaces. This transition was recently delayed by Congress due to concerns that millions of citizens had been unable to get vouchers to make their analog TV sets digital-ready.
Despite this setback, industry leaders remain optimistic and are moving ahead, creating a working group named the White Spaces Database Group to hash out the technical details of white space use. The working group consists of the giants in the tech industry, with Comsearch, Dell, Google, HP, Microsoft, Motorola and NeuStar as its founding members. The group is working to create the database that the government will use to govern and regulate white space when it comes online on June 12, after the delay ends.
Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, states, "We don't plan to become a database administrator ourselves, but do want to work with the FCC to make sure that a white spaces database gets up and running. We hope that this will unfold in a matter of months, not years. In the coming weeks and months, members of the group will be offering to the Commission their perspectives, and some specific recommendations, about the technical requirements we would like to see adopted for the database."
White space usage will vary by location, so the database will help white space devices cooperate, spotting unused sections of their local white space spectrum. In order to protect against interference, the FCC is also requiring that all devices using the white space be certified and that they be designed to detect wireless microphones and avoid interfering with them.
The interference provisions are largely an effort to silence criticism from professional audio and communications hardware makers, as well as broadcasters, who claimed opening white space would interfere with their equipment. FCC testing contradicted such fears, but the FCC is still trying to be sensitive on the topic.
Explains FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, "Normally, the Commission adopts prospective rules about interference and then certifies devices to ensure they are in compliance. Here, we took the extraordinary step of first conducting this extensive interference testing in order to prove the concept that white space devices could be safely deployed."