White Spaces conflict heats up as FCC begins testing of unlicensed consumer devices

By Ken Kerschbaumer

The White Spaces battle is heating up again as the FCC gets ready to test devices from companies like Microsoft, Philips, Motorola and Google. And those companies are once again claiming the broadcast, sports, and Broadway communities are undertaking a “public misinformation campaign.”

Dave Donovan, MSTV president, calls the campaign claim one of the “most disingenuous arguments ever raised in an FCC filing.”

The Wireless Innovation Alliance is fighting to gain access to White Space spectrum that currently prevents TV channels from interfering with each other and is also the home to tens of thousands of wireless microphones and other professional devices that need to exist in relatively clear and interference-free spectrum. The use of unlicensed consumer devices within that spectrum could cause untold harm to over-the-air TV reception and render wireless communication devices and microphones useless.

“When the IEEE and FCC first began looking at the viability of sensing devices as the sole protector against interference they found it was too complex and difficult,” explains Donovan. “So the [Wireless Innovation Alliance] went to the Hill and injected politics into the process.”

Donovan urges all networks and industry professionals who rely on either wireless microphones or the delivery of over-the-air TV signals to viewers to get involved in the process.

“It is incumbent upon the sports industry to participate in every level of testing as those tests will be open to the public,” adds Donovan. “The commission needs to be made aware of any problems.”

Donovan also urges leagues and networks to extend an offer to the FCC for the devices being tested at the FCC labs and in Washington, DC to be put to the test at a sporting event elsewhere in the country. Current plans only call for real-world testing to be completed in the Washington, DC area, ensuring that a wide variety of geographical and interference scenarios are never part of the testing process.

“The FCC is very clear that it will not do testing outside of DC and that is a fatal flaw in testing for wireless interference,” adds Donovan.

“These devices on adjacent channels will cause interference to TV reception and, from a sports perspective, tests completed in Los Angeles of a Microsoft device failed to detect wireless microphones,” says Donovan. “The White Space coalition response has been that the quality of the TV sets wasn’t adequate but they were the best TVs the FCC had in its lab. So their response is consumers should buy better sets even though that means 50 million sets out there already would receive interference.”

The biggest danger of the testing is the Wireless Innovation Alliance claim that the devices submitted for testing are simply “concept pieces” and not the final devices that will be in consumer’s hands. If the FCC rules are based on the performance of “concept pieces” future devices only have to meet those thresholds, no matter how flawed.

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