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New Slices of Spectrum

The airwaves between TV stations are now open to a host of new wireless gadgets.
November 5, 2008

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve the use of unlicensed radio frequencies between television transmissions, often called white spaces. This is good news for device manufacturers such as Motorola and Phillips, who’d like to make gadgets that take advantage of these airwaves. But the ruling, which was unanimous, frustrated television broadcasters and other groups who fear that new devices will create interference affecting television signals and wireless microphones.

Google, which has been pushing for the ruling, lauded the FCC decision. Cofounder Larry Page wrote in a blog post that “we think that this spectrum will help put better and faster Internet connections in the hands of the public.” Bloggers at Make magazine, a popular resource for hackers and people who fiddle with hardware, wrote about the prospects for home-brewed white-space gadgets due to the ready availability of components that can be found in televisions.

Still, building devices for a better and faster Internet that also satisfy the FCC will be a complex technology project. In October, the commission released a report detailing the technology requirements for the new airwaves. The main provision is that a gadget needs to accurately locate television signals, thus ensuring that it is using a free frequency. In some cases, the device could do this by wirelessly accessing a database that provides frequencies of nearby television stations and guidelines for the amount of power that the device can use before it interferes with these stations. According to Ars Technica, in October, five major technology companies tested their prototypes, with varying degrees of success.

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