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FCC: Kids, here's 100MHz of radio spectrum - but you have to share

Sets 3.5GHz band free for public use

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US regulator the FCC will hand over another 100MHz of radio spectrum to unlicensed wireless users, just as long as they let someone know they're using it, as the White Space expands to fill every gap.

The band runs from 3550MHz to 3650MHz, making it slightly larger than the 2.4GHz band used for Wi-Fi. It's currently occupied locally by some government sites, hospitals and satellite links, but across most of America it's empty - which is where White Space technology comes in.

White Space devices are required to contact an online database to check out local conditions prior to transmitting, so they can safely make use of bands which are currently verboten nationally but only filled locally. White Spaces were originally identified as regionally empty TV channels but the technique can, and will, be applied to any frequency - so this is the first step in a revolutionary process.

One might ask what's the point of radio for devices which are already connected, but only the access point needs to contact the database - clients then listen for the access point which tells them which bands are available locally. One can also raise the spectre of hackers faking the (encrypted) database connection. But the same hackers can, today, retune their Wi-Fi routers and fit illegal amplifiers - nevertheless, not many of them bother, plus illegal radio transmissions are, by their nature, easily tracked down.

The UK will see White Space devices working in those TV bands next year and Ofcom has said it's keen to hand over the 600MHz band for White Space use until it's auctioned off some time around 2018 - the beauty of White Space being that one can just ask the band be cleared and in a matter of hours every device can be switched out, making it ready for sale. But selling spectrum to one owner, for their exclusive use, could eventually become a redundant concept, with moves like this one pointing the way towards properly utilised radio spectrum. ®

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