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The row over US ‘white space’ spectrum continues, with the newly formed Wireless Innovation Alliance stepping up its campaign to convince the FCC and the industry that wireless devices can be used in these areas without interfering with digital TV signals.

The WIA last week accused the broadcast industry, as represented by the National Association of Broadasters (NAB), of misleading the public just as the FCC prepares to test updated wireless devices from the likes of Microsoft (the original prototypes failed non-interference testing, though the WIA claims this had more to do with poor testing methods than real problems for digital TV signals). These products are designed to work in an unused channel within the digital TV band, but to switch to another channel if the first is needed for a television signal.

The WIA was formed last month to lobby the FCC to complete testing and move forward with technical guidelines. Six House of Representatives members wrote to FCC chairman Kevin Martin recently to urge a final decision in the next few months. The transition from analog to digital TV is due to be completed in February 2009.

“Upcoming testing of white space concept devices is meant to assist FCC engineers to craft the strongest possible rules while ensuring maximum public benefit. Yet instead of respecting the FCC’s desire to perform concept testing, your recent public misinformation campaign has confused the testing process and misled the public and policy makers,” stated the WIA in a letter to NAB president David Rehr.

“A successful consumer transition from analog to digital television is now imperiled by a cadre of companies that have been hoisted on their own flawed technology petard,” said Dennis Wharton, NAB executive VP. “Try as they might, portable unlicensed device advocates like Google and Microsoft cannot run and hide from the fact that their own technology utterly failed FCC testing. That is not ‘misinformation,’ but rather an inconvenient truth.”

Several vendors have now submitted updated devices, claiming improved anti-interference performance, for testing by the FCC. These include Google (actually its first attempt); Philips (whose white spaces ‘sense-and-avoid’gear did pass previous government testing); and start-up Adaptrum.

The latter, founded by Robert Broderson, also co-founder of Atheros, uses the whole 6MHz of the DTV signal and contains a time domain matched filter, a technique designed to permit greater sensitivity than pilot tone detectors. Microsoft is also about to deliver a new device, while Motorola has already presented the FCC with a white spaces unit that combines geolocation database and sensing technologies.

While the white spaces debate has largely focused on the arguments between unlicensed wireless and broadcasting, there is another lobby that wants the spectrum to be subject to license and used for backhaul – another area where bandwidth is at a premium. Leading the fight for this application are Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA, which of course are at a disadvantage in backhaul terms compared to AT&T and Verizon, which own many of their own lines.

The fixed licensing plan was originally drawn up in October by FiberTower and the Rural Telecommunications Group and the two cellcos announced their support last week, as did General Electric’s healthcare unit, which opposes unlicensed wireless because of the risk of interference to medical telemetry systems.

“Because backhaul comprises a significant cost for wireless carriers, and incumbent local exchange carriers’ special access charges are exorbitant, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile must find more affordable alternatives to the ILECs’ special access offerings,” the carriers told the FCC. “Despite this need, the amount of spectrum in the lower bands that is realistically available for the provision of wireless backhaul services has declined dramatically over the years. As wireless carriers expand the development of their 3G and 4G wireless networks, the need for reliable and cost effective backhaul will increase.”

Copyright © 2008, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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