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FCC And Vendors Are Developing Wireless 'White Space' Devices

The so-called "white space devices" will be embedded in laptops and smartphones and use unregulated spectrum.

If the FCC and a coalition of high-tech companies led by Google and Microsoft have their way, so-called "white space devices" (WSD) will be embedded in laptops and smartphones to take advantage of the analog-to-digital TV spectrum switchover in February 2009.

The FCC and the industry coalition vowed this week to seek a way around interference and other technical issues that sabotaged the initial attempt (pdf) to obtain approval for the devices.

The industry coalition indicated it would return to the drawing boards to develop WSDs that can pass the FCC's tests, which are conducted by the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology.

The FCC acknowledged the coalition's first effort might have been premature. "The devices we have tested represent an initial effort, and do not necessarily represent the full capabilities that might be developed with sufficient time and resources," the FCC said in its report on the initial measurements of TV white space devices. "Accordingly, we are open to the possibility that future prototype devices may exhibit improved performance."

The devices are aimed at using vacant TV frequencies and are likely to be particularly useful in delivering inexpensive wireless broadband connections to rural areas. The WSDs presumably would bypass traditional networks operated by mobile phone service providers. Two weeks ago, the FCC established auction rules for a section of the 700-MHz spectrum, which, like the white space, is scheduled to be available in February 2009.

The coalition of companies working on prototype WSD devices includes Dell, EarthLink, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, and Philips.

"We intend to work with the FCC in order to identify the discrepancies in their tests with the tests we've done," said Edmond Thomas, a coalition representative, according to media reports. Thomas is a former chief engineer of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology.

The white space devices would utilize unregulated spectrum and, if successful, could lead to lower prices for wireless broadband for consumers.

In its report, the FCC tested different WSD prototypes submitted by different unidentified applicants. "These devices are not intended as actual consumer products but rather are development tools for evaluating the viability of spectrum sensing and potential interference," the report stated.

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