White Spaces Update: First TV Bands Device, Database Begin Operation

Microphone and wireless-systems manufacturer Shure has been in the forefront of the White Spaces issue since the beginning, and Shure Manager of Technical and Educational Communications Chris Lyons brought SVG up to speed on its current status.

The first TV Bands Device (a fixed device designed to provide local wireless broadband) and the first TV Bands Device Database (operated by Spectrum Bridge) have been approved by the FCC and became operational on Jan. 26, Lyons says. Initial availability is limited to the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County, NC, and will expand nationwide pending resolution of some remaining issues, including the FCC’s procedure for processing database-registration requests from unlicensed wireless-microphone users.

Wireless mics, personal monitors, and production intercoms are permitted to operate on any TV channel (except channel 37) not assigned to a TV station or two-way–radio licensee at a particular location. The FCC is designating at least two TV channels in each market as reserved or exclusively available for wireless-microphone use; the channels are off-limits to TV Band Devices. Reserved-channel information for a particular location can be obtained via Spectrum Bridge’s Show My White Space online tool. (At the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Auditorium in Wilmington, for example, channels 10, 11, 13, 19, 36, and 38 are reserved for wireless-microphone use.)

Since three to 15 wireless microphones (depending on model) can operate in one 6-MHz TV channel, the reserved TV channels will accommodate most wireless users’ needs. Users of larger numbers of wireless systems may register in the TV Bands Device Database to protect additional TV channels during a specific event. Unlicensed wireless-microphone users must request database protection from the FCC; licensed users may register in the database directly.

Until the FCC registration system is operational, unlicensed users must submit registration requests directly to the FCC Office of Engineering Technology at TVWSinfo@fcc.gov. The “subject” line in the message for such requests must begin with the phrase: “[Wireless Microphone Registration]” followed by the entity’s full name: [Wireless Microphone Registration] Widget Corp., for example. In addition to contact information, requests must do the following:

  • Show that at least six wireless microphones, personal monitors, or production intercom systems will be operating in each of the TV channels that are reserved or exclusively available for wireless microphone use at that location.
  • State which additional TV channels must be protected to accommodate the additional wireless systems that will be used at the event.

Once the FCC approves the registration, it will direct Spectrum Bridge to provide the user with a registration number so that the event details can be entered in the database.

Pressure for More Allocation
“The FCC is under intense pressure to reallocate even more spectrum for broadband — preferably in a single large block instead of a patchwork of TV-channel white spaces that vary from place to place,” says Lyons. The major wireless carriers have been aggressively promoting the “repack and auction” plan that appeared in the National Broadband Plan published in 2010: have TV stations change or share channels so that they can fit into an even smaller piece of spectrum, allowing the FCC to auction the remainder to wireless carriers. Some of the auction proceeds would be shared with the TV stations that change channels, and the remainder (as much as $25 billion, according to some estimates) would be deposited in the U.S. Treasury.

The FCC cannot conduct such an “incentive auction” without Congressional approval, however. The authorization has been included in several House and Senate bills, but none have been passed so far. The delay is due to the fact that Congress has told the FCC that permission to conduct the auctions will not be granted until the FCC publishes an estimate of how many TV stations would need to change channels, how many would need to share a channel, and how many would likely go off the air entirely under various auction scenarios. The FCC has told Congress that it will not reveal this until Congress grants permission to conduct the auctions.

“Congress may be uneasy about the auction plan because it would put this valuable spectrum under the control of just a few large companies that can afford to buy it. That means that it would support only the devices and services that those companies decide to market,” Lyons suggests, adding that the tech industry at large (including the Wi-Fi Alliance, Google, and Microsoft) has concerns about the auction plan and wants the FCC to maintain unlicensed use of the UHF TV-band spectrum. Proponents believe that free and open access would stimulate innovation, investment, and job creation, as companies of all sizes develop new products and services — similar to what followed the allocation of the 2.4 GHz band for WiFi and Bluetooth.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Broadcasters remains vocal in its position that it has already given up more than 100 MHz of spectrum during the 700 MHz-band reallocation and that the search for dedicated broadband spectrum should be focused on other bands.