Chaos Ahead? FCC Opens White Space Spectrum to Unlicensed Devices

The sports production community’s reliance on wireless microphones and headsets will be put to the test now that the Federal Communication Commission has approved Spectrum Bridge’s TV white spaces database system and an actual unlicensed device built by Koos Technical Services that will operate in conjunction with the database. However initial operations will be limited to the Wilmington, NC area.

In a statement FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “With today’s approval of the first TV white spaces database and device, we are taking an important step towards enabling a new wave of wireless innovation. Unleashing white spaces spectrum has the potential to exceed even the many billions of dollars in economic benefit from Wi-Fi, the last significant release of unlicensed spectrum, and drive private investment and job creation.”

The new KTS TV bands device is designed and approved for fixed operations that serve any broadband data
applications. The device will contact the Spectrum Bridge database to identify channels that are available for
operation at its location and can provide high-speed Internet connectivity.

The press release refers to white space spectrum as “unused” despite the vital role it plays for hundreds, if not thousands, of wireless microphone users every day. Commission rules require that unlicensed TV band devices contact an authorized database system to obtain a list of channels that are available for their operation (i.e., channels not occupied by authorized radio services) at their individual locations and must operate only on those channels.
The approval granted by OET allows Spectrum Bridge to commence operational service to new devices that can take advantage of the TV spectrum to provide service over greater ranges than those of Wi-Fi devices operating on higher frequencies.

Initial operation under this approval will be limited to Wilmington, NC and the surrounding area and will expand nationwide pending completion and activation of the Commission’s facilities for processing requests for protection of unlicensed wireless microphone at event venues. Parties in the Wilmington area that wish to register wireless microphones for event venues during this period of limited operation must send a request to OET by e-mail in accordance with the instructions provided in the Public Notice.

Operators of MVPD receive sites, wireless microphones users, and operators of temporary BAS links must specifically register their sites to receive protection from TV bands devices. As required under the rules, Spectrum Bridge is providing facilities for registering for these operations through its TVWS database system website at: http://whitespaces.spectrumbridge.com/Main.aspx

The rules provide that responsible parties may request that the Commission approve registrations for protection of venues where unlicensed wireless microphones are used. These requests will be made available for public comment, and the Commission will subsequently review them for approval. Also note that once one or more additional database systems are approved and active, all registrations entered with a given database will be communicated to the other database(s) so that registrations will not need to be entered in multiple databases.

The Commission’s registration system for venues where large numbers of unlicensed wireless microphones are used is still under development and is expected to be operational in the coming months. Until this system is operational a manual method for submitting and processing requests for registration of unlicensed microphone venues will be in place and limit the deployment of devices to a single market area.

The FCC says it find this “soft-start” approach useful in that it offers an appropriate opportunity for limiting service while the unlicensed wireless microphone registration system is being developed and also provides an opportunity to further test the concepts of the TVWS operating plan.

Those in the sports production community who typically rely on multiple mirophones at a crowded venue seeking to obtain protection for venues where large numbers of unlicensed wireless microphones are used must submit registration requests directly to OET at TVWSinfo@fcc.gov. The “subject” line in the messages for such requests must begin with the phrase: “[Wireless Microphone Registration],” followed by the entity’s full name. For example: [Wireless Microphone Registration] Widget Corporation. If OET approves the registration, it will inform Spectrum Bridge to create a registration record for the venue and provide the registrant with a registration number.

In addition, entities responsible for venues of events and productions/shows that use large numbers of wireless microphones at well defined times that cannot be accommodated in the two channels specifically reserved for wireless microphones and other channels that are not available for use by TVBDs at that location may request protection of such venues through registration. Entities seeking to register eligible event venues are required to certify that they are using the two reserved channels and other channels that are not available for use by TVBDs on which wireless microphones can practicably be used, including channels 7-51 (except channel 37) at the location of the venue.

The FCC says that, as a benchmark, at least six-to-eight wireless microphones should be operating in each channel used at such venues (both licensed and unlicensed wireless microphones used at the event may be counted to comply with this benchmark). In addition, registration requests that do not meet these criteria will not be granted as the Commission will make requests for registration that meet the threshold showing for acceptability available for public comment.

Registrations that are granted will be valid for one year, after which they may be renewed. Registrations must include the following information:
– Name of the individual or business that owns the unlicensed wireless microphones
– a postal address for the contact person
– an e-mail address for the contact person
– a phone number for the contact person
– coordinates where the wireless microphones are used (latitude and longitude in NAD 83, accurate to +/- 50 m)
– channels used by the wireless microphones operated at the site and the number of wireless microphones used in each channel.