FCC’s Martin opens door for sports leagues, networks to test unlicensed device

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Broadcasters and sports leagues concerned that Federal Communications Commission testing of unlicensed devices designed for use in White Space spectrum will not have enough real-world testing have a new option: getting involved.

“We’re testing devices now in the labs and in the fields and any network interested in helping with field trials should contact us,” said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Martin, who was in New Orleans for a discussion with CNN’s Anderson Cooper at the NBA Technology Summit, said that the current testing is designed to find out if new and still-developing technology can make use of sensing and other features to steer clear of interfering with wireless microphones and DTV reception. “We’re trying to use the spectrum as efficiently as possible,” he said of his hope to give consumers more broadband access choices.

The open door to real-world testing outside of the Washington, DC, area ended a tumultuous period for those who support allowing unlicensed devices into White Space spectrum. Last week a Microsoft prototype device broke down again — the second time in seven months — in the hands of the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology.

“They were running some tests on it, and it just stopped working,” Ian Ferrell, director of wireless incubation for Microsoft reported to TRDaily.

“This admission by ‘white space’ proponents vindicates beyond doubt the interference concerns expressed by broadcasters, sports leagues, wireless microphone companies and theater operators,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said. “Completing a successful transition to digital television ought not to be jeopardized by introducing risky technology that has proven to be unworkable.”

The FCC contacted the coalition Wednesday after the device lost power, but Ferrell said once the device cooled down it started to work again properly. In the meantime, the FCC began testing on a second identical device submitted by Microsoft.

Involving sports networks and leagues in the testing process would go a long way towards ensuring that devices that work properly in lab environments can survive in the real world.