FCC Enables Wireless-Mic Use in New Spectrum, Allows Sharing in TV Bands

New rules adopted by the FCC on Aug. 6 address the long-term needs of wireless-microphone users by providing continued access to the 600 MHz band and expanding access to other bands. The commission also adopted a Report & Order that modernizes its Part 15 rules to permit unlicensed fixed and personal/portable white-space devices and unlicensed wireless microphones to use channels in the 600 MHz band and television-broadcast bands while continuing to protect television and other licensed services from harmful interference.

These new rules come in advance of a planned reverse auction of spectrum in that frequency range, one considered critical by broadcasters and other professional users, scheduled for March 29, 2016.

Specifically, the new rules pertaining to broadcasters allow greater use of the VHF channels and permit co-channel operations inside DTV contours without coordination if TV signals fall below a specified threshold; expand eligibility for licensed use of the 4-MHz portion of the 600 MHz duplex gap to include all licensed users in the TV bands (broadcasters, cable networks, movie studios, and operators at major sports/concert/theater venues); and provide new opportunities for these licensed wireless microphones to operate on a secondary basis in three additional spectrum bands, consistent with the commission’s spectrum-management goals: (1) access to significantly more spectrum in the 900 MHz band; (2) access to a portion of the 1435-1525 MHz band at specified times and places, subject to coordination requirements that protect critical aeronautical mobile telemetry; and (3) access to portions of the 6875-7125 MHz band.

The Report & Order issued by the FCC will affect operation of unlicensed devices from garage-door openers and cordless phones to WiFi and Bluetooth technologies to the Internet of Things. The commission’s Part 15 rules permit unlicensed devices to operate on unused TV channels, the so-called white-space spectrum. Following the upcoming incentive auction, there may be fewer white-space frequencies in the television band for use by such devices.

The Report & Order is designed to allow more-robust unlicensed use and to promote spectral efficiency in the 600 MHz band. Specifically, the rules

  • Permit more-robust and -efficient operation of fixed and personal/portable white-space devices in television-broadcast bands without increasing the risk of interference to broadcast services.
  • Provide technical parameters for fixed and personal/portable white-space devices to operate in the 600 MHz band, including the duplex gap and guard bands, and channel 37 on a shared non-interference basis with medical telemetry and radio astronomy.
  • Permit sharing of spectrum between white-space devices and unlicensed microphones in the 600 MHz band.
  • Expand the location and frequency information in the white-space databases and update database procedures.
  • Adopt transition periods for the certification, manufacturing, and marketing of white-space devices and wireless microphones that comply with new rules.

The commission asserted that these new rules provide “efficient sharing of these bands to accommodate various wireless-microphone users, while continuing to protect the licensed users of each of the bands,” according to an FCC statement, as well as providing nationwide access to spectrum for unlicensed use in the 600 MHz band.