Google Proposes White-Spaces 'Compromise'

Internet Giant Pitches ‘Glide Path,’ Hybrid Fixed/Portable System to Federal Communications Commission 3/24/2008 07:29:00 AM Eastern

Google proposed a compromise on the use of unlicensed devices in the so-called white spaces between digital-TV channels that it said will ensure that they don't interfere with TV stations or other spectrum users.


Google, in a letter submitted last Friday, is pitching the Federal Communications Commission on a "glide path" to use of the devices that would include a hybrid fixed/portable system combined with a safe harbor for medical, telemetry and wireless microphones and further comment on the use of spectrum-sensing devices.

The computer company is looking to attract some support from the broadcast and sports-production communities that have been opposed to sharing the band with portable unlicensed devices for fear of harmful interference to their signals. He wasn't getting much from broadcaster's chief spectrum lobby.

The FCC is currently considering whether to allow unlicensed devices, like laptops and spectrum-sensing radios, to share the swath of spectrum that is being used for digital-TV broadcasts.

While Google argued that spectrum-sensing technologies are sufficient to protect TV broadcasters, in the interests of "moving the ball forward," it is supporting Motorola’s proposal for a hybrid system, while adding the additional protection of a safe harbor where channels 36-38 could not be used by the unlicensed devices protecting channel 37, which is used for medical telemetry and radio astronomy, and providing a so-called safe harbor for wireless microphones used for sports broadcasts and by theaters and churches.

Google also suggested that the FCC could approve the hybrid model first, while seeking more input on the use of spectrum sensing on a stand-alone basis.

Adding that the white spaces would also be an ideal place for new devices being developed under its Android open-source project, Google told the commission that it is "confident [that the proposal] will eliminate any remaining legitimate concerns about the merits of using the white space for unlicensed personal/portable devices."

Google pitched its plan as a way to provide ubiquitous broadband -- an FCC priority.

In making that pitch to reporters Monday, Google telecommunications and media counsel Rick Whitt talked of the advantages in terms tailored to appeal to FCC chairman Kevin Martin.

He said the wireless Internet access made possible by the use of the broadcast spectrum would provide Americans from Manhattan to rural North Carolina (Martin's home state) with access to multiple-gigabit-per-second speeds.

The commission has been under pressure from congressional -- and FCC -- Democrats to boost Internet-access speeds.

If all goes well, Whitt said, the devices could be ready for store shelves in time for the 2009 holiday shopping season. In any event, the spectrum won't even become available for potential white-space uses until at after the Feb, 17, 2009, date for the switch to digital full-power TV broadcasting.

Google’s supposed “new plan” is understandable given the repeated failure of spectrum sensing technologies during the most recent round of FCC lab testing," said David Donovan, head of the Association For Maximum Service Television (MSTV). "We are happy Google recognizes that relying on sensing will not protect consumers from interference to their new DTV sets and government subsidized converter boxes. Hopefully, this will put an end to the current “sensing” approach advocated by Microsoft and others."

MSTV, essentially the broadcast industry's spectrum policy watchdog, has been a leading voice in opposition to using the spaces between TV channels for unlicensed mobile devices, arguing they could endanger the DTV transition by interfering with DTV broadcasts just as the industry makes that sea change.

In reality, however," said Donovan, "Google’s letter offers nothing new.  It recites the same laundry list of possible 'protections' that have been debated for some time. 

"The letter provides no new technical information demonstrating that its proposals will work. Vague promises about 'no interference' are not sufficient to protect consumers, who are spending billions of dollars in new digital equipment, or to protect wireless microphones used for live on-the-spot coverage of news and sports events."

"We are pleased that Google now seems to realize that spectrum sensing alone won't protect viewers against interference from unlicensed devices," added National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Unfortunately, simply adding geolocation and beacon sensing does not mean that mobile operation is suddenly feasible. Portable, mobile personal device operation in the same band as TV broadcasting continues to be a guaranteed recipe for producing interference and should not be allowed under any circumstances."

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