Google Claims FedEx Field White Space Test Was Rigged

By Ken Kerschbaumer

The White Space issue is heating up once again and appears to be heading toward a resolution, with the White Spaces Coalition and others pressuring FCC chairman Kevin Martin to make a decision by Election Day. In addition, Google co-founder Larry Page used the launch of the company’s cellphone service and its “Free the Airwaves” campaign in Washington to make the unsubstantiated claim that tests of unlicensed consumer devices at FedEx Field were rigged.

“The test was rigged deliberately,” Page said during his remarks at the Dirksen Office building. “That’s the kind of thing we’ve been up against here, and I find it despicable.”

MSTV president David Donovan calls the claim outrageous. “Once again, when confronted with the inconvenient truth that the technology doesn’t work, they resorted to the tried-and-true claim that the test must have been rigged,” he says. “For years, they have wanted to leave politics out of this process, but this changes that.”

Google, Microsoft, Motorola and other companies are lobbying the FCC to allow unlicensed devices to be designed for use within the White Space spectrum. But opponents are concerned that allowing the devices into the spectrum will adversely impact wireless-microphone use and cause interference with both over-the-air and cable TV reception.

To date, FCC tests, in both lab and field trials, have found that prototype devices have a difficult time sensing not only microphones using the spectrum but also spectrum that was available. The Washington Post reports that a Google spokesman explained later that the test devices could not detect the wireless microphones because the testers had used the same frequency as local television stations” in essence, hiding within the television spectrum so that the test device could not detect them.

Page also used his visit to Washington as a chance to plug the Android platform: “The notion that a small device like this is going to interfere is just garbage,”

Opponents of the devices, however, are concerned. The test devices that failed at FedEx Field were large rack-mounted devices with larger antennas and greater sensitivity than is possible in a smaller device. Those large devices failed to work properly, and any smaller devices would be prone to more interference and problems, not fewer. In fact, improper use of wireless-microphone systems on small beltpacks can provide plenty of difficulties in the current RF environment. In addition, a stadium filled with upwards of 5,000 devices slicing and dicing spectrum promises to be a chaotic RF environment.

Page’s criticism of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) spurred responses from TV networks and wireless-microphone manufacturers.

ESPN filed comments with the FCC regarding the prototype tests (ET Docket No. 04-186) designed to prove whether sensing technologies in unlicensed devices would properly detect available spectrum or other users in the spectrum. Jeffrey Willis, ESPN coordinating technical manager, says in the filing that, based on the FCC tests at FedEx Field, “sensing technology cannot be the foundation for protecting incumbent license holders.”

Willis found other issues, as well, with the systems tested at FedEx Field. “We have yet to see, let alone test, the technology that will allow the devices to migrate to an unused frequency in a timely manner,” he says. “A channel scan taking seconds, not to mention minutes, is not acceptable in an environment that demands response within milliseconds. Second, we have not seen nor tested the technology that will inhibit the device’s transmissions if an unused frequency cannot be found. Third, we have yet to witness a device that would provide protection to the high-gain antennas deployed in and around an event to retrieve the low-power microphone signal from the non-sensing white-space device.”

There is little doubt that the White Space battle is entering a new phase, and Donovan asks all concerned broadcasters and sports leagues to contact their congressman and senator. “Now is the time,” he says.

The latest claims come on the heels of Media Access Project’s August filing of an informal complaint against several manufacturers of wireless-microphone systems for “deceptive” sale and distribution of such systems in the 700 MHz band. The complaint alleges that all microphones used in the band are illegal and threaten public-safety services. The FCC opened a comment period on the issue.