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White Spaces Update: Can We All Just Get Along?

By Ken Hamberg

In last month's article on the White Spaces issue associated with the massive broadband spectrum reallocation undertaken by the FCC, we discussed the possible intrusion of mobile broadband wireless internet devices upon the prime RF real estate newly created for DTV broadcast by the disappearance of analog television as of February, 2009. The opposition to these unlicensed White Space Devices (WSD's) on the part of the audio and broadcast communities has grown increasingly strident. As we promised our many thousands of wireless microphone customers, here's a look at what's been happening up on the Hill:

  • On May 7, 2008 Shure Inc. filed a formal complaint with the FCC, adamantly opposing what Shure perceives as the inadequate technology of the WSD prototypes submitted for testing and possible approval by the FCC. Shure's point the prototypes have uniformly exhibited insufficient spectrum sensing and unreliable detection of DTV and wireless mic signals in close RF quarters. None of the prototypes at this time has met the FCC's minimum signal-detection requirement of -116dBm/6MHz, although the Philips "Prototype B" came close with a purported 100% success rate at -114dBm. Motorola and an opportunistic start-up called Adaptrum have also submitted prototypes for assessment that supposedly incorporate several alternative sensing algorithms and interference-avoiding technologies.
  • Shure's filing focused particularly on the proposed beacon transmitter plans (which rely heavily on spectrum-sensing and geo-location technology) submitted by both Google and Motorola for use in the White Spaces. Shure declared the current state of beacon technology to be not only unreliable but also unfair to wireless mic customers, who would be burdened with the purchase of a disabling beacon and have to enter a variety of geo-location, frequency and I.D. information into a database in order to legitimately operate in a given area. Hey guys, wireless mic systems are licensed we gotta pay to play with unlicensed users? Thanks, Shure, for speaking up.
  • The FCC's currently proposed maximum allowable output power for WSD's has been revealed to be 100mW. The currently enforced maximum for wireless mic systems is 250mW. The typical portable wireless mic system used by roving news crews, videographers, documentary filmmakers and others usually maxes out at 50mW. Does anybody see a potential electro-magnetic conflict in the making? We do.
  • In mid-May Google co-founder Larry Page visited Capitol Hill to testify before the FCC in favor of unlicensed portable WSD's in lieu of the vehement opposition from not only the audio and broadcast industries, but also major players from the cellular industry who have paid literally billions at the FCC auctions for licensed spectrum. They're prepared to spend billions more in infrastructure as well. Google has spent nary a dime, having made a half-hearted bid in the March auction for spectrum ultimately purchased by Verizon. Let's face it Google has shareholders and accountants to answer to, and free, as in White Spaces with virtually no infrastructure investment combined with Google's highly-valued programming expertise has to be an easy sell. In his new role as consumer advocate, Page argued in favor of the improved technology exhibited by the recent WSD prototypes (none of which Google developed) while reiterating Google's commitment to free, unlicensed use of White Space spectrum in the name of the public interest. It's all about the little guy, right Larry?
  • A spokesperson named Brian Peters from yet another multi-corporation coalition, the Wireless Innovation Alliance, announced that the WSD field test report and a subsequent ruling by the FCC may be issued by late summer of 2008. The Wireless Innovation Alliance includes White Space Coalition members Microsoft, Google, Hewlett-Packard and Dell. The Alliance has published a White Paper relating to the current prototype WSD interference testing conducted by the FCC. Here's an interesting point: According to the authors, the signal level required by DTV receivers to produce a picture is -85dBm, well over 1000 times more potent than the -116dBm threshold required by the FCC. Such a signal is far stronger and easier to detect, and the argument is that the FCC's threshold is in fact too stringent. The Wireless Innovation Alliance's positive agenda for White Space use has a lot to do with an interest in satellite and internet radio proliferation and a genuine loathing for the NAB.
  • Robert Kenny, a spokesperson for the FCC, re-emphasized the commission's commitment to moving forward with WSD testing.

See you next month for another White Spaces Update.

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