FCC Issues an NPRM on White Space Spectrum

Carl Weinschenk
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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking feedback on the idea of keeping one ultra-high frequency (UHF) channel vacant in each market for unlicensed white space use, according to TVTechnology.

White space is in an empty spectrum now that was in the past used by broadcasters. It is available due to the digitization and relocation of broadcast signals and the use of buffers between channels that are still using the frequencies. It is valuable spectrum, though, due to its ability to permeate structures (as illustrated by the ability to get broadcast signals indoors) and its long range.

Though promising, white space is a complex topic for a couple of reasons. Since the available spectrum differs between locales, sophisticated technology must be deployed to enable users to identify permissible spectrum at specific places and times. The resulting databases also are susceptible to mistakes and fraud, according to Robert McDowell, a former FCC Commissioner.

The other challenge is that common electronic devices, such as handheld microphones, use the same spectrum that white space will inhabit. The plight of wireless mics often used in theaters is detailed at The Stranger.


Despite these issues, the development of white space moves on, both in the United States and internationally. GCN reports that white space is being used to provide free Wi-Fi service at Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. It is possible that the white space service, which also goes by the glitzier nickname, “Super Wi-Fi,” could move into Seattle neighborhoods next March.

The advantages of using this spectrum are clear, according to the story:

The new system is 5,000 times faster than the old system, which bogged down when too many people used it simultaneously. The faster speeds will allow enabling visitors to make Skype calls, back up photos, and connect with events and vendors at Seattle Center. The previous Wi-Fi network's speed supported only email and basic web browsing. For the new network, Microsoft brought in a digital fiber line capable of transmitting multiple gigabits per second.

A smaller phase one project is underway in the Thurman, N.Y. area. According to Denton Publications, 12 households in the small upstate town are getting service. That number is expected to rise to 90 premises and at least some of those homes and businesses were still using dial-up connections to get online.

White space utilization is an international initiative, as well. The Business Standard, for instance, last week reported that Microsoft, the Indian Institute of Technology and the Education and Research in Computer Networking (ERNET) have been approved to conduct two tests of white space in Srikakulam, in Andhra Pradesh.

With these powerful companies deeply involved in white space research, the move by the FCC – if it evolves beyond a NPRM – will be an important factor in how the category further evolves.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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