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FCC Opens Unused Spectrum For Wireless Broadband

September 24, 2010

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved a plan on Thursday that would allow the unused airwaves between television channels to be used for wireless broadband services that are more robust than those provided by today’s Wi-Fi technology.

The idle spectrum, or so-called “white spaces”, became available as a result of the digital television transition in 2009.

The move is the FCC’s first significant release of unlicensed spectrum in 25 years, said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. 

“This new unlicensed spectrum will be a powerful platform for innovation. As we’ve seen time and time again, when we unleash American ingenuity, great things happen,” he said.

The agency said its hopes the decision to free up the unused spectrum for “super Wi-Fi” services would help ease the strain on the nation’s crowded airwaves.

Indeed, many high-tech firms such as Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Dell Inc., have long sought to use this spectrum, and are eager to develop the market.

“By opening this broadcast spectrum for Internet use, the commission is helping to unleash a whole new class of mobile wireless broadband services with applications that are nearly limitless,” said Dell Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Dell.

The computer maker believes “white space” networks could be used to create “large-scale hot spots” and to deliver broadband services to rural areas that are currently without broadband access.  The networks could also be used to stream video and other content to various electronic home devices, the company said.

Television white spaces are uniquely suited for broadband services because signals sent on that band of spectrum have higher capacity and can travel for miles.  They can also penetrate walls, allowing users to move easily throughout buildings without losing connectivity.

As with the Wi-Fi spectrum, white spaces will be available to users free of charge, and without licensing requirements, meaning unlicensed wireless devices can operate on the idle spectrum.

The FCC had approved the use of white spaces for broadband services two years ago, but the plan received fierce opposition from TV broadcasters, microphone makers and users who were concerned the new networks might interfere with traditional over-the-air signals.

Thursday’s vote calls for the creation of a database with a map of nationwide TV channels and large wireless microphone users such as theaters and sports leagues.

White space networks and devices will be required to determine their own location and consult the database to locate the available vacant frequencies.   

The FCC said it would allocate at least two channels for small users of wireless microphones.

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