FCC planning to open white spaces for ‘super Wi-Fi’

It’s been years coming, but the Federal Communications Commission appears ready to vote on regulations governing the use of spectrum gaps so they can be used for high-bandwidth mobile services, kind of a “super Wi-Fi.” The regulatory framework would approve the use of devices that operate in spectrum space normally reserved for television—so long as those devices don’t interfere with broadcast television or technologies like wireless microphones, they would be able to offer high-bandwidth wireless services.

A vote could come on September 23.

The regulations up for vote would open up spectrum white spaces for free, unlicensed use in a manner similar to the way frequencies currently being used for short-range Wi-Fi and Bluetooth operate. Wireless equipment makers are particularly keen to move into white spaces because, unlike existing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth services, signals in this spectrum space easily penetrate walls can can travel for miles—just like broadcast television. There’s also the bandwidth to consider: white space technologies should be available to deliver wireless bandwidth in the range of 15 to 20 megabits per second, putting it on par with many wired broadband technologies. Whitespace technologies could be very important for bringing broadband to rural areas and other regions underserved by existing broadband technologies.

To address interference issues, the proposed regulations would have installers required to configure white-space equipment to use frequencies that are unused in a particular area—due to the scattershot and varied availability of broadcast television across the country, there is no single set of whitespace frequencies that can be used uniformly throughout the United States. Alternatively, whitespace devices could configure their frequency use using location-aware technologies: the devices could use, say, GPS coordinates to look up their current location in a central database, then configure their frequencies to match whitespaces in their current location.

The wireless industry has wanted the FCC to mandate that whitespace devices include spectrum-sensing technology that would automatically detect what areas of the spectrum are currently in use in an area and prevent the devices from using those spectrums. The fear is that whitespace devices could interfere with television reception and emergency communications. The FCC has, so far, omitted requirements that whitespace devices include spectrum-sensing gear.

The FCC regulations also aim to set aside at least two channels for use of short-range wireless microphones, which operate in the same frequency bands. Wireless mics are frequently used by music performers, theaters, speakers, officials, and other public presenters.

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