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TV White Space Supporters Have New Reasons to CheerTV White Space Supporters Have New Reasons to Cheer

Suppliers are making progress on new wireless applications in the TV White Spaces spectrum, but concerns remain about interference with hospital equipment.

Mike Dano

March 21, 2019

5 Min Read
TV White Space Supporters Have New Reasons to Cheer

Several new developments in TV White Spaces (TVWS) technology appear to have pushed the long-suffering sector forward. But problems -- namely interference worries by hospitals in the US -- continue to dog the market.

On the bright side, the FCC this week issued new rules for wireless operations in TV White Space spectrum. The rules are aimed at addressing a variety of technical concerns, such as how to locate TVWS devices.

And, separately, the WhiteSpace Alliance (WSA) and the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) inked a new agreement to speed the development of low-cost broadband services in the spectrum. "TV White Space holds particular promise for connecting currently underserved consumers at price points appropriate for large rural and remote populations, a solution sometimes referred to as 'Frugal 5G,' " the groups wrote in a press release. "WSA and IEEE-SA are currently defining several activities with relevant stakeholders from developing countries on projects that will involve spectrum sharing for applications such as rural broadband, e-commerce, e-health, smart cities and smart grid."

But, perhaps most importantly, the National Association of Broadcasters and TVWS proponent Microsoft appear to have reached a tentative agreement on additional rules for operations in the spectrum. "For the past several months, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Microsoft have been engaged in productive discussions regarding potential modifications to the Commission's television white spaces (TVWS) rules to facilitate operations in rural areas while ensuring that licensed operations are protected," the NAB wrote in a letter this week to the FCC. "As a result of these conversations, NAB agrees that the Commission should pursue certain, but not all, changes Microsoft is seeking, as long as the Commission takes important steps to protect licensed users."

The NAB specifically said it agreed with many of the technical solutions to TVWS problems that Microsoft originally proposed to the FCC in October.

The NAB's acceptance of some Microsoft's TVWS suggestions signals a bit of a détente between the two organizations. NAB has long complained about operations in TVWS, while Microsoft's AirBand program has been working for years to create an equipment ecosystem for operations in TV White Space spectrum.

Although the FCC would still need to make a final ruling on any agreement between the NAB and Microsoft, the NAB's letter on the topic nonetheless signals movement forward for TVWS. "We appreciate the discussions and collaboration with NAB over the past months that have led to this point, and echo their call to the FCC to move forward with key TV white spaces issues to close the broadband gap," added Microsoft in its own statement on the letter.

A long and complex history
TV White Spaces are basically slices of spectrum between analog TV channels, mainly in the 700MHz and 600MHz bands. The FCC first voted to allow unlicensed operations in TVWS in 2010, and Google's founder at the time hailed the move as the creation of "WiFi on steroids."

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Although there's clearly newfound momentum in the TVWS sector, Michael Calabrese with the New America association cautioned that concerns remain. He said companies that supply wireless medical telemetry services to hospitals using Channel 37 of the TV White Space band continue to worry about interference to their operations from fixed wireless providers and others using TVWS spectrum. The FCC, for its part, said in its recent order that "we will address at a later time those petitions addressing push notifications and white space device operation on Channel 37."

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. He has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones. Mike is based in Denver and can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @mikeddano on Twitter and find him on LinkedIn.

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