Technology & Science

U.S. moving toward offering free wireless airwaves

The head of the FCC is in favour of opening up unused portions of the country's wireless airwaves, known as "white spaces" for new broadband services, and will bring the issue to a vote in November.

The head of the U.S. telecommunications regulator is in favour of opening up unused portions of the country's wireless airwaves, known as "white spaces" for new broadband services, and will bring the issue to a vote in November.

Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, on Wednesday said he supports the use of white spaces, which sit between television broadcast frequencies in the 150 megahertz and 700 megahertz bands, for delivering wireless internet services.

Those white spaces are unlicensed and could therefore be used for free by anyone, unlike the licensed frequencies such as 700 megahertz that were recently auctioned off in the United States to cellphone carriers.

Companies including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Motorola Inc. have been lobbying the FCC for the past year to make those airwaves available so that they could offer wireless broadband without paying billions of dollars for licences.

Such services would compete with cellular offerings from the likes of AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile.

The cellular providers and television broadcasters had raised concerns that devices operating in the white space frequencies could interfere with their signals. The FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology on Wednesday refuted those concerns after testing a number of devices. The report stated that devices equipped with geo-location and sensing capabilities would not cause interference.

"At this juncture, we believe that the burden of 'proof of concept' has been met," the report said.

Martin, a Republican, told reporters he would bring the issue of opening up white space to a vote when the FCC next meets, on Nov. 4.

Google, among others, cheered the news from Martin.

"This news should be greatly encouraging for American consumers," wrote Google's Washington telecom and media counsel on the company's blog. "The FCC now has more than enough information to develop appropriate rules that protect TV stations and wireless microphone users from harmful interference, while at the same time allowing innovators and entrepreneurs to develop technology that productively uses these airwaves."

Industry Canada, which is responsible for managing spectrum, has not yet addressed the issue of whether access to white spaces could be freed up here. Industry Canada does, however, licence some of the same white space frequencies being looked at by the FCC to internet service providers in rural and remote communities.