The Feasibility of Unlicensed Broadband Devices to Operate on TV Band 'White Space' Without Causing Harmful Interference

In May 2004, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to allow a new generation of wireless devices to use vacant TV frequencies (so-called “white spaces”) on an unlicensed basis and thereby promote more effective use of the public airwaves. In October 2006, under bipartisan pressure from Congress, the FCC adopted a First Order and Further NPRM that approved unlicensed use of vacant TV channels for “fixed” broadband deployments, but called for further study on the question of whether “personal” and “portable” low-power devices (such as laptops and iPhone-type PDAs) could also use these empty airwaves without causing “harmful interference” to the dwindling number of over-the-air TV viewers (roughly 13 percent of TV households use over-air reception the rest subscribe to cable or satellite TV services).

These white space devices (WSDs) present new opportunities for consumers to efficiently use currently unused spectrum and for America’s technology sector to promote ubiquitous, more affordable broadband deployment -- particularly in underserved rural areas -- as well as stimulate new innovations in consumer products, services, and applications. With the growing use of Wi-Fi and other unlicensed devices in everything from laptops to next-generation PDAs and cell phones, WSDs provide much-needed additional capacity for everything from broadband connectivity to home and community networking. The remaining challenge for the FCC is to define explicit operating rules to govern device certification, so that high-tech industries can embark on the R&D necessary to bring compliant consumer devices to market.

For the full Policy Brief, please see the attached PDF file below.





Sascha Meinrath

Michael Calabrese is director of the Wireless Future Project, which is part of New America’s Open Technology Institute.