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FCC frees up TV white space spectrum

Today, the game changed.

A few days ago, I blogged about an upcoming vote by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on freeing up the “white space” between broadcast TV channels for use by new wireless devices. The potential service has been called “super Wi-Fi” or “Wi-Fi on steroids.”

Today the FCC voted and unanimously approved new rules for the use of the white space in the broadcast TV spectrum. The 300 MHz to 400 MHz range of unused spectrum is considered to be “prime spectrum” for wireless devices, because such radio waves can travel long distances (miles) and penetrate through walls.

Today’s vote clears a path for service providers and makers of wireless devices to start to design products to take advantage of the spectrum. Some companies, including Dell, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Motorola, and others have lobbied the FCC for years to open up this range of frequencies. About 90% of the currently licensed spectrum in this frequency range is unused.

The FCC has handled potential interference with wireless microphones by setting aside two channels for the mics. To prevent possible interference with broadcast TV, the FCC will not require device manufacturers to include technology that senses the  geolocation spectrum in the new devices, a key win for device makers in keeping costs down. Instead, new devices with query a geolocation database to make sure no one is using that spectrum before the device transmits. The FCC Office of Engineering and Technology will get the database started. Companies like Google and Spectrum Bridge have submitted proposals for managing the database on an ongoing basis. The technique of using a database could allow sharing of other frequency ranges as well.

The process to open up white space in the broadcast TV spectrum began back in 2002 under then-Chairman Michael Powell. Current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is optimistic that the new spectrum will allow the development of a product ecosystem like the one that developed around Wi-Fi.

-Bill at

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