By Clive Young.
New York (September 24, 2010)—With a unanimous vote, the FCC has released a Memorandum Opinion and Order that approves the unlicensed use of ‘white space’ spectrum, laying down long-awaited rules in an effort to balance the needs of broadband proponents and wireless microphone users alike.
White spaces—spectrum that was left unused during the days of analog TV transmission in order to act as buffers between terrestrial TV channels--have been the subject of ongoing debate in recent years, as the FCC has wrestled with how best to reallocate them. Unlicensed use of white spaces has been championed by the likes of Google, Dell, HP and Microsoft, which are intent on creating new wireless applications and devices that will use reallocated spectrum for augmented connectivity and communications—a concept that has been coined “Super WiFi” in recent times.
A primary concern for the pro audio community, however, has been that such devices would create interference with critical equipment, such as wireless microphones. After considerable lobbying from the pro audio community, NAB, end users, broadcasters and others, the FCC would appear to have taken those concerns to heart with the new rules.
As part of the Order, two channels will be set aside nationwide for wireless mic use—a move that the FCC expects will allow between 12 to 16 mics in a given area to operate simultaneously without interference from devices that will use the newly released spectrum. If a production requires more spectrum for an event such as a sports game or concert, it can petition for a temporary expansion of allocated frequencies during performance times by electronically filing a request with the FCC at least 30 days in advance.
The decision wasn’t a complete win for pro audio proponents, however. Over the last few years, broadcasters and pro audio concerns lobbied for the FCC to require all UHF Band Devices to both use geo-location spectrum sensing technology and check a geo-location database that would monitor existing spectrum uses in a given area.
The FCC’s new rules, however, will only require database checks, making the spectrum sensing technology optional. This is a significant victory for the Wireless Innovation Alliance (Google, Dell and others), which had feared implementing both technologies would make devices significantly more expensive to produce.
In the wake of the new rules, however, both sides declared victory. Though the National Association of Broadcasters declined to initially comment beyond stating “We look forward to reviewing the details of today's ruling,” others were exultant.
In a statement, Sandy LaMantia, President and CEO of Shure Incorporated, remarked, “It’s clear that the FCC carefully considered the needs of wireless microphone users while crafting this Order. The reserved channels will provide a safe harbor in which musicians, small theaters, houses of worship, and businesses can operate their wireless microphone systems without interference from new TV Band Devices.”
Meanwhile, Richard Whitt, Google’s Washington Telecom and Media Counsel, stated on the company’s Public Policy blog, “We’re glad to see that the FCC appears to have rejected calls to enact burdensome and unnecessary constraints that would have made it more difficult to deploy useful technologies on these airwaves. Instead, the Commission has put forward common-sense rules that will help encourage innovation, while fully safeguarding incumbent signals from interference.”
Some parties took issue with some of the more pointed comments that came from the FCC. Sennheiser USA's Joe Ciaudelli noted, "In their commentary, the FCC stated that wireless mic technology is spectrally inefficient.... We will continue to innovate. Nevertheless, we believe the FCC may not yet fully appreciate the technical hurdles to increasing efficiency without sacrificing performance. Wireless mics must be compact, operate without drop-outs, exhibit negligible latency, and have full audio frequency response. No other technology comes close to meeting these performance requirements. We will continue to communicate these points with the FCC."
The next step forward will be for the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology to decide who will run the geo-location database. Various companies, including Google, have submitted proposals to manage it.