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Unlicensed Wireless Broadcasting Spectrum in the USA

Paul Budde

New developments that have been announced by the FCC in the United States have rekindled the decade-old debate on the use of the so-called 'white spaces' in broadcast spectrum that are to be used for telecoms purposes.

In September 2010, the FCC adopted a Second Memorandum Opinion and Order that updated the rules for unlicensed wireless devices that can operate in broadcast television spectrum at locations where that spectrum is unused by licensed services. This unused TV spectrum is commonly referred to as television 'white spaces'. The rules allow for the use of unlicensed TV devices in the unused spectrum to provide broadband data and other services for consumers and businesses.

To prevent interference to authorised users of the TV bands, TV bands devices must include a geo-location capability and the capability to access a database that identifies incumbent users entitled to interference protection, including, for example, full power and low power TV stations, broadcast auxiliary point-to-point facilities, PLMRS/CMRS operations on channels 14-20, and the Offshore Radio Telephone Service.

The database will tell a TV band device which TV channels are vacant and can be used at its location. The database also will be used to register the locations of fixed TV band devices and protected locations and channels of incumbent services that are not recorded in Commission databases. The rules state that the Commission will designate one or more entities to administer a TV bands database.

In January 2011 the Commission conditionally designated nine entities as TV bands device database administrators. They are:  Comsearch ; Frequency Finder; Google; KB Enterprises and LS telcom; Key Bridge Global; Neustar; SpectrumBridge; Telcordia Technologies; and WSdb.

The TV bands databases will be used by fixed and personal portable unlicensed devices to identify unused channels that are available at their geographic locations. This action will allow the designated administrators to develop the databases that are necessary to enable the introduction of this new class of broadband wireless devices in the TV spectrum.

While there was widespread support for the announcement, I have not, over the past twenty years, noted a sufficient degree of significant change to suddenly propel this technology into a new future.

None of the previous issues have changed enough to warrant more enthusiasm this time. In particular this includes technical and standardisation issues, both for the technology itself and for the end-user devices needed to receive broadband services in this way. With all these different — and competing — companies now involved coordination will become a nightmare.

It will be interesting to see if, this time around, the technology will be able to make some commercial progress.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication. Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

Related topics: Broadband, Policy & Regulation, White Space, Wireless

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