FCC’s White Spaces Decision Frees Up Unused TV Airwaves Between TV Channels

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a bold step on September 23, 2010, and voted unanimously to open up vacant airwaves between TV channels (called “white spaces”) to allow new technologies such as “super Wi-Fi” and other innovative applications, to have new spectrum to operate in.  It follows the FCC’s National Broadband Plan recommendation to have more unlicensed spectrum to create opportunities for new technologies to come to fruition from vacant TV channels in TV markets.

This is an important development for a number of reasons:

First, it is pretty rare for the FCC to make blocks of spectrum available for unlicensed use.  This is the biggest chunk of really valuable spectrum to be made available in a few decades.  Truly, this will kick start more innovation in this unlicensed area, especially with wireless broadband (an acknowledged area of future broadband connectivity).  One can foresee more powerful Wi-Fi connections enabled by this spectrum, with extended range, fewer dead spots, and improved user speeds.  California can benefit from this because it enables applications such as “super Wi-Fi” connections for schools, public libraries, community colleges, municipal uses, public safety and other rural/remote/tribal users.

Second, this particular part of the spectrum is what we FCC commissioners always referred to as spectrum “prime real estate.”  In this particular band of TV spectrum (54-72 MHz, 76-88 MHz, 174-216 MHz and 470-698 MHz), signals travel well, including through buildings and structures.  It is extremely good spectrum for mobile wireless devices, including mobile broadband.

Third, there was plenty of squawking in opposition from the broadcasters and others who use wireless microphones and other low power auxiliary services in this part of the spectrum. In its order, the FCC has taken steps to ensure that incumbent services are protected from interference from the use of white spaces.  For example, the FCC’s Order reserves two vacant UHF channels for wireless microphones and other low power auxiliary service devices in all areas of the country.  It maintains reasonable separation distances between TV white space devices and wireless microphone usage.  Also the FCC’s Order got rid of a previously proposed requirement that TV bands devices that incorporate geo-location and database access must also include sensing technology to detect the signals of TV stations and wireless microphones.  With these steps, the FCC attempted to calm the fears of the incumbents in the area of the white spaces spectrum.

State agencies should follow developments relating to Super Wi-Fi and other wireless applications using this new unlicensed spectrum in the next five years.