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FCC smiles on Goo-soft's white space wireless play

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The US Federal Communications Commission has inched towards a plan that would provide high-speed WiFi-like wireless access over unused portions of the country's television airwaves.

On Wednesday, the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology released a report (PDF) detailing its latest tests of so-called "white space" prototypes, and it's confident such devices can operate in the wild without hampering TV broadcasts.

"At this juncture, we believe that the burden of 'proof of concept' has been met," the report reads.

According to The Wall Street Journal and the AP, FCC chair Kevin Martin has tossed a white space proposal with his fellow commissioners, and the issue is set for a vote at the FCC's November 4 meeting (DOC). "No one should ever underestimate the potential that new technologies and innovations may bring to society," Martin said in a statement.

A cavalcade of tech companies - including Microsoft, Google, Dell, HP, Intel, and Philips - are lobbying the FCC to use America's television white spaces for something so often called "WiFi on steroids." If the FCC gives its approval, white spaces - portions of the TV band that don't house active channels - will become unlicensed spectrum. That means anyone could grab some off-the-shelf hardware and use these airwaves to get online.

The white space spectrum affords better propagation than WiFi, and the system proposed by Microsoft's White Spaces Coalition would leverage mesh networking principles to cover much wider areas. Internet access from one network gateway could be bounced from home to home.

"These devices could be used for distributing data inside the home, but they could also be used for broadband internet access, especially in rural areas," Ed Thomas, who represents the White Spaces Coalition through the Washington DC law firm Harris, Wiltshire, and Grannis, has told The Reg.

But Local TV stations - and the nationwide networks that supply them with programming that supply them with programming - have vehemently opposed the plan, saying it will prevent grandma from watching football. And these naysayers were given all the ammunition they needed when Microsoft sent the FCC not one but two prototypes that promptly gave up the ghost.

But in June - after Microsoft withdrew its prototypes - the FCC completed labs tests of devices from other outfits, and now, it has wrapped up some field tests too.

The commission has also released a report (DOC) saying that a proposed free wireless network in the so-called Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) would not interfere with T-Mobile's adjacent 3G network. The FCC plans to auction off a portion of the AWS band next year for an ad-driven network expected to reach 50 per cent of the US population within four years, and 95 per cent within a decade.®

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