FCC takes steps to make room for 'white spaces,' wireless microphones

The agency has proposed rules to make sure all users have enough spectrum after TV incentive auctions

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is taking steps to ensure that both current and emerging wireless devices don't get left out when it reorganizes the frequency bands now used for television.

On Tuesday, the agency proposed actions on wireless microphones and on new devices and services that use the so-called "white spaces" between TV channels. Both types of devices use TV bands and will be left with less spectrum following the FCC's upcoming incentive auction intended to shift some TV spectrum to mobile services.

Both the upcoming auction and last year's authorization of unlicensed white-spaces devices are part of a broad FCC effort to make more radio spectrum available for the growing needs of mobile wireless users. The agency is also seeking to allocate more spectrum for Wi-Fi and let consumers share some bands currently reserved for the military and federal agencies.

In the incentive auction, scheduled to take place in the middle of next year, the FCC will encourage TV broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum in exchange for pocketing some of the proceeds from the auction. That will lead to a "repacking" of the spectrum, in which some broadcasters will share what are currently single channels. One pair of stations in Los Angeles has already agreed to do so.

On Tuesday, the FCC proposed changing the rules for white-spaces devices to ensure they still work, and even work better, after the reordering of the TV bands. The devices will continue to share spectrum with TV stations. The proposed changes in the white-spaces rules would cover unlicensed use of the TV bands, the so-called guard bands between channels in the 600MHz band, and channel 37, which is used for radio astronomy. Even though there will be fewer frequencies available in these bands following the auction, the FCC says its proposed changes "are designed to allow for more robust service" for the unlicensed devices.

Microsoft, Google and other tech heavy hitters strongly back the concept of white-spaces wireless, which some proponents say could provide significant new unlicensed bandwidth for mobile services. But the technology is only beginning to be deployed. Implementing it relies on devices constantly being aware of TV stations nearby so they don't interfere with broadcasts.

Also on Tuesday, the FCC proposed changes in the way it treats wireless microphones. Many wireless microphones, which most news and sports broadcasters and live entertainment and meeting venues depend on, operate on unused frequencies in the TV bands that would undergo changes after the incentive auction.

On Tuesday, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to address the long-term needs of wireless microphone users. The NPRM explores the requirements of both licensed and unlicensed wireless microphones and possible alternative technologies, and the agency is seeking comment on rule changes to allow for greater use of the microphones, possibly using other spectrum bands as well.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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