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2/12/2007
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Microsoft Preps Cognitive Radio Prototype For Use With TV Spectrum

Dell, HP, Google, and others want the FCC to sign off on letting consumer devices utilize the "white space."

An informal coalition of technology companies, including Dell, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, and Philips Electronics, has asked the FCC to make unused portions of the TV broadcast spectrum available for unlicensed use by wireless devices.

Though the specific devices that might work with this "super Wi-Fi" network have yet to designed, Microsoft is preparing to submit its prototype "cognitive radio" soon. A company spokesman said Microsoft and its partners aim to demonstrate to the FCC that consumer devices can utilize the spectrum "white space" without causing interference with TV or other signals.

"This is all related to the FCC-proposed rulemaking to open up white spaces for additional uses," says a spokesman for Microsoft. "We think there's an opportunity for innovation in using those spaces."

"We welcome innovation that helps put people in touch with information and expands user choice," says a Google spokesman. "Clearly, open access to unused TV spectrum will promote competition, spark a new wave of innovation, and holds the potential to provide broadband access to underserved communities."

"Every market has empty television channels," explains Scott Blake Harris, an attorney representing the unnamed coalition and a managing partner of the law firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP. "The reason is if they're too close to each other they interfere. This coalition believes you can use low-power wireless devices in those empty channels without causing any interference."

Broadcasters are "very concerned about potential interference," Harris says, but he allows that interference may not be the only issue. "My view is that for almost everything there's a good reason and a real reason. I suspect [interference] is not the real reason" for concern.

The real reason might be that broadcasters, not to mention the telephone and cable companies, aren't eager to empower competing tech companies by allowing them to offer wireless broadband video content and Internet service.

Whether or not that's the case, some companies such as wireless microphone makers do have real concerns about interference and have asked the FCC to make sure any use of white space spectrum accommodates the functioning of their products.

The Microsoft cognitive radio prototype is described as being smart enough to sense the presence of a digital television or wireless microphone signal and move to a vacant channel or not transmit if there's no open channel.

U.S. TV broadcasters have until February 2009 to move from analog to digital broadcasting technology. Once that happens, a significant portion of the TV signal spectrum should become available. Harris expects the FCC will rule in support of the tech industry.

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