As triple-play has moved from buzzword to reality, today’s hot concept seems to be the wordier notion of consumer access to content whenever and wherever. Some say the FCC’s decision to allow the unlicensed use of TV white spaces will facilitate this.

"The increased connectivity of this quality of spectrum allows more people to watch TV in more places. You will be able to watch high-definition (HD) broadcast television on your Blackberry …. White space is going to be the vessel through which so much of this content is pushed," said Jake Ward, spokesperson for the Wireless Innovation Alliance, a consortium that supports the use of TV white spaces.

The spectrum at issue exists between broadcast TV channels, specifically below 900 MHz and in the 3 GHz band. The FCC’s ruling in November opened the way for unlicensed wireless devices to operate in this unused spectrum. According to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, the way has been paved for "Wi-Fi on steroids."

"I fully expect that everything from enhanced home broadband networks, to intelligent peer-to-peer devices, and even small communications networks will come into being in TV white spaces," he wrote in a statement shortly after the ruling.

Opposition and safeguards

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association is among the parties that expressed concerns prior to the ruling. The NCTA said that devices with high output power could interfere with cable viewing. The association called for, among other things, restricting portable devices to a maximum of 10 mW and the prohibition of transmission in the VHF channels.

The FCC did build a number of safeguards into its rules, including the use of spectrum-sensing technology and geolocation capability and access to a database of "incumbent services" such as the locations of cable system headends. All white space devices must be certified by the FCC Laboratory and approved by the full Commission.

The first white space devices could appear within a year, with the first application being something simple, like a remote control networking system, Ward said, calling the issue of interference a "red herring."

"Were there issues (during FCC’s proof of concept testing) with geolocating and proximity interference and volume?" he said. "Sure, but these are prototype devices …. It’s not like the large boxes of wires are going to be on the shelves at Radio Shack any time soon. They have to go out and be developed by R&D, by tech companies and come back to be certified as harmless by the FCC."

– Monta Monaco Hernon

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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