A recent order by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opens new possibilities for manufacturers of wireless devices. On November 4, 2008, the FCC adopted rules to permit the use of new wireless devices in the broadcast television spectrum on a “secondary” basis at locations where that spectrum is not in use by broadcasters, the so-called white space. Throughout the year, interested parties, including Microsoft, Motorola, and Philips Electronics, submitted prototype devices to the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) for testing to determine whether they could operate in the “white space” without causing harmful interference to broadcast TV or to unlicensed wireless devices such as microphones. The OET released its report for Phase II testing, along with a peer review report of white space devices, in October 2008; the FCC voted on new rules shortly after the release of the report. Wireless use of TV white space had been energetically opposed by the National Association of Broadcasters. Google and other prominent high-tech companies pushed hard for permission to deploy unlicensed devices in this spectrum; their views carried the day.  

The new rules provide for the operation of fixed and personal/portable devices in the TV white spaces on an unlicensed basis. The devices will be permitted to operate on most channels between TV channels 2 and 51. With limited exceptions, white space devices must have a geolocation capability. The devices must also be able to access over the Internet a database of protected radio services and the locations and channels that may be used by the unlicensed devices at each location. The FCC will solicit third parties to establish and maintain that database, and white space devices must access the database to obtain a list of permitted channels before operating. Additionally, the devices must have the ability to “sense” TV and wireless microphone signals. The FCC said that its new rules constituted a “conservative first step” and cautioned that it will closely monitor developments in this area to ensure that white space devices do not cause harmful interference to licensed services.