Posted by Marc Berejka
Senior Director, Technology Policy and Strategy
November 4th was an eventful day in Washington, D.C., and around the country. Yes, 125 million people cast their votes and selected a new president. But the U.S. Federal Communications Commission also cast ballots on how American innovation can help close the digital divide. The agency’s five commissioners voted unanimously to set the parameters under which unlicensed wireless devices can access the so-called TV “white spaces.”
To the uninitiated, the last phrase may sound like Greek. What is “unlicensed access to TV white spaces?” It involves the use of cutting-edge, ‘smart radios’ to access the many vacant TV broadcast channels across the nation. As unlicensed devices, these gadgets will be mass-produced, widely available at lower and lower prices, and easy to set up – much like today’s inexpensive cordless phones.
But these new smart radios will be much more capable than cordless phones. By leveraging the superior propagation characteristics of this portion of the wireless spectrum, Microsoft and other leading tech companies foresee using white space radios to inexpensively enhance broadband access.
White-spaces radios can help rural communities inexpensively augment their broadband Internet access, and can enhance business and personal productivity by creating new ways for people and digital devices to connect to each other and to Internet-based services.
(For more information on how the FCC decision came about and the varied consumer and tech groups that supported it, see http://www.wirelessinnovationalliance.com/).
On Wednesday, an informal group of tech companies and database operators, known as the White Spaces Database Group, came together to take the next step towards making the FCC’s vision a reality.
In its decision last November, the FCC stated it expects the private sector to build a database of the other lawful occupants of the TV broadcast spectrum in order to prevent harmful interference between them and white spaces radios.
Before operating, an unlicensed white spaces device will have to check the database and learn which broadcast channels are available in its location. It will take some work to develop the operational parameters for the database – to make sure multiple providers can enter the market, to populate the systems, to efficiently share data, and eventually to communicate with overseas databases in order to enable international roaming. The group announcing itself this week – Microsoft, Comsearch, Dell, Google, HP, Motorola, and NeuStar – sees these challenges as requiring hard work, but also as eminently surmountable. We welcome other organizations that share these goals to join the White Spaces Database Group.
For those who are tracking white space developments, continue to watch this spot.