Striking the Right Balance is Crucial to Enabling Broadband in the TV White Spaces

Posted by Paula Boyd
Regulatory Affairs Counsel

In 2004, the Federal Communications Commission proposed rules to allow anyone to use the vacant channels in the television band, the so called “TV white spaces”, for wireless broadband.   Given the promise of greater broadband Internet access and the possibility of new broadband user scenarios Microsoft engaged the policy process and Microsoft Research began the technical work to realize the potential of the spectrum.  Now it is up to the FCC to finalize its rules striking the right balance between protecting existing users and putting in place the right policy framework to enable broadband to emerge in the white spaces. 

In order to develop as well as demonstrate the potential of the white spaces, Microsoft Research established a white spaces network on Microsoft’s Redmond campus.  Using only two access points, Microsoft Research is able to provide Internet access covering one square mile of the campus.  The network leverages the white spaces to allow employees to connect to the corporate network using their laptops or smart phones while travelling around the campus.  In this instance, the white spaces made a wireless hotspot cost effective to deploy because signals transmitted over the white spaces cover a greater area than using today’s 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi technology.   

At its open meeting on Thursday, the FCC can enable consumers to realize the tremendous potential of the white spaces by striking the right policy balance.  In order to achieve this goal, the FCC must avoid the overly burdensome technological requirement that white spaces devices include both geolocation and sensing technology.  Geolocation technology can effectively protect existing users.  Requiring that sensing technology also be built into a device will increase cost and slow the introduction of the white spaces technology without improvements in interference protections.  

It also remains important that the FCC not over protect existing users and underutilize the spectrum.  Press reports suggest that FCC policies being considered may reserve an overly excessive amount of spectrum for wireless microphones.   While it remains important to facilitate wireless microphone operations, the FCC should go no further than the policies noted below: 

  • Granting wireless microphones exclusive use of multiple unoccupied channels below channel 21 in every market.  
  • Granting wireless microphones exclusive use of the first available channels above and below channel 37 – a full 12 MHz of spectrum – in every market.  
  • Allowing licensed wireless microphones to operate on any unoccupied channel protected from interference from a white spaces device by registering in the database.  
  • Allowing even previously illegal microphones to operate on any open channel.  
  • Requiring all white spaces devices to cease operations hundreds of meters away from the locations of licensed wireless microphones in order to avoid interference. 

Given this extensive list of policies and the spectrum it provides for wireless microphones, it’s clear that making even more spectrum available for wireless microphones such as allowing more wireless microphones to register in the database could imperil the development of white spaces devices and undermine the FCC’s broadband goals. And we should remember that, as demonstrated by previous FCC testing, wireless microphones also operate on occupied broadcast channels where white spaces devices are not permitted which provides even more spectrum. 
The wireless broadband marketplace is evolving rapidly.  ABI Research anticipates that 1 billion Wi-Fi chip sets will ship by 2011, and that 5 billion chip sets will have shipped between 2000 and 2012.  Many anticipate that white spaces will drive even greater broadband experiences.  The FCC can help to get us there by concluding all open issues and striking the right policy balance.

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