FCC To Decide on White Spaces Rules This Week

On Sept. 23, the FCC will vote on revised rules for the use of newly available spectrum between digital television channels, known as White Spaces. Backers of the use of the White Spaces for mobile consumer devices — notably Microsoft, Google, Dell, and other software and hardware suppliers — tout future uses of this spectrum as the next generation of Wi-Fi — or “White-Fi,” as some are calling it. Broadcasters, however, remain leery of the potential for those devices to interfere with over-the-air television signals and wireless microphones.

Charged with approving the rules for use of the White Spaces, the FCC commissioners will weigh assertions from both sides, culled from two years of analysis tinged with heavy doses of self-interested lobbying during the Petitions For Reconsideration period that followed the original 2008 Report and Order. Consumer-electronics companies have shown the results of “real-world” pilot operations they’ve conducted — particularly, Microsoft‘s conversion of its headquarters campus in Redmond, WA, into a White Spaces zone, using shuttles equipped with broadcast devices to test the ability of mobile devices to avoid interfering with nearby TV stations and wireless microphones.

For their part, broadcasters point to tests — some conducted during NFL games — that show that mobile devices can indeed interfere with wireless microphone systems. They’ve lobbied for integration of spectrum-sensing technology into mobile devices to enhance their ability to prevent interference with professional wireless systems. As part of their petitions for reconsideration, broadcasters and professional-audio companies commented that spectrum sensing should be mandated. Consumer-electronics companies, however, express their view that the previously prescribed geolocation-based database of available frequencies is sufficient and that spectrum sensing is redundant.

Noting how the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology has had to strike a balance between technology and politics, Mark Brunner of Shure, which has been a leading voice from the professional-audio industry in the debate, says, “The FCC has really taken the input of the pro-audio community very seriously, and the final decision is going to be a very delicate balancing act.”

Sports Video Group will report the outcome of the FCC’s decision on Thursday.

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