White-space advocates get their wish
It's been two years, but the FCC last week approved the use of unlicensed white-space spectrum.
The commission voted 5-0 to approve the plan. The order, issued in 2008, had been delayed by lawsuits from broadcasters and wireless microphone users that argued the use of these tiny slivers of spectrum between TV broadcast stations would interfere with their operations.
But the FCC handed a victory to entities such as Google, Motorola, Microsoft and Spectrum Bridge that have fought for white-space spectrum and a new type of device capable of transmitting "super Wi-Fi."
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski declared that the ability to leverage the white-space spectrum will provide "unique opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs."
Still, the devil is in the details, as the saying goes. The FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology is tasked with writing the final technical rules within the next 30 days on how white-space devices can operate in the spectrum. Some advocates are keeping their fingers crossed that the FCC doesn't invoke too-strict interference rules that would render the spectrum less useful than hoped.
At the same time, the OET will select the database administrators — the entities that will keep records of vacant and non-vacant channels so that white-space devices can smartly move from vacated channel to vacated channel.
The FCC also removed the requirement that white-space devices include spectrum-sensing equipment, which should reduce the complexity of the radios that can access white-space spectrum, said Joe Hamilla, chief operating officer with Spectrum Bridge, which has been deploying white-space networks using experimental licenses from the FCC and developing device software.
"This is big news for the chip and handheld players," Hamilla said. "They can leverage commercial technology by using a Wi-Fi chip that can be rebanded."
Interestingly, the FCC commissioners cited Spectrum Bridge's networks as justification for releasing the white-space spectrum. So far, Spectrum Bridge has built a network in Claudville, Va., a small rural community lacking broadband connectivity, to show how white spaces can bridge the so-called Digital Divide.
In February, the city of Wilmington, Del., and the county of New Hanover in North Carolina launched a white-space network using an experimental license to create what Spectrum Bridge calls the nation's first smart-city network powered by the vendor's white-space database.
And earlier this month, Google and Spectrum Bridge, together with the Hocking Valley Community Hospital, announced the deployment of the first white-spaces broadband trial network for healthcare providers in Logan, Ohio.
"It's a whole new market for Airspan, Aruba and other Wi-Fi players because of the propagation capabilities of the network," Hamilla said. "This will give them a new product suite to bring to markets like oil and gas and public safety."
He added that the cost of white-space devices should be in line with what Wi-Fi devices cost.