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“WiFi on steroids” gets final rules

wifi-steorids-arsAt its monthly meeting today, all five FCC Commissioners set disagreements (mostly) aside and unanimously supported the final rules that will open empty TV channels to unlicensed broadband use. If all goes according to plan, these “TV white spaces” will be the raw material that unleashes another WiFi revolution—but this time with longer range, better building penetration, and even more speed.

White space devices will still need to query a special geolocation database before transmitting, in order to avoid broadcasting over existing TV channels and wireless mic users, but the FCC has ditched the expensive “spectrum sensing” tech it initially required back in 2008. On a conference call yesterday, reps from Google, Dell, and Public Knowledge worried that a requirement to include both the database check and spectrum-sensing hardware would make the new white space devices too costly and too difficult to build, while broadcasters and microphone users have long argued both techniques are necessary to avoid any interference.

In addition, the agency decided to handle the contentious issues of wireless microphones (most of which won’t be recorded in the database) by setting aside two empty channels in every market for exclusive microphone use. Each channel should accommodate 12-16 wireless mics, but large productions (think NFL games or Broadway shows) can petition the FCC for more spectrum in advance; if approved, these productions would be temporarily added to the geolocation database.

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