Back in March, Microsoft submitted a novel device to the FCC which would utilize the unused “white spaces” in the US TV spectrum (which vary from city to city) for portable personal digital communications. Last week, the FCC’s assessment came in and it wasn’t a pretty sight because the prototype failed to correctly detect when frequencies were in use and would thereby cause interference. This week, more details came out it and it was revealed that Microsoft’s prototype was defective:
Microsoft, in a letter to the FCC Monday, said the scanner in of one two prototypes submitted was damaged and “operated at a severely degraded level.” The scanner in the wireless device is supposed to sniff for broadcasts in spectrum before transmitting in the band and switch to another band if the first one is occupied. The FCC found that the prototype did not consistently detect TV broadcast signals and could cause interference.
Microsoft had tested the prototype and found that it operated within FCC specifications, wrote Ed Thomas, a consultant for the White Spaces Coalition and a former chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology. “The damaged scanner accounted for the entire discrepancy between the Microsoft and the FCC bench test data,” Thomas said in a letter from the coalition’s law firm, Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP.
Microsoft had also provided a backup prototype which the FCC did not test and which was apparently in working order.
Microsoft, in a statement, said it hopes the FCC will move forward with the approval of white spaces devices. The company is “confident” that unused channels in the TV spectrum band “can successfully be used” and not cause interference to incumbent licensees, it said.
The FCC found that a second prototype device submitted by Philips Electronics North America Corp. could detect both digital television and wireless microphone signals in the laboratory, Microsoft noted.
Microsoft and Philips developed the prototypes on behalf of the White Spaces Coalition which also includes Google, Dell, HP, Intel, Earthlink, and Samsung and from the membership you can infer the kind of applications that they have in mind. So all it needs is just another quick test from the FCC? Not quite.
Standing against the White Spaces Coalition are the National Association of Broadcasters who are wrapping themselves in, if not the flag, then at least the “right” of every American to receive quality TV programming over the airwaves. That’s quality in only the technical sense, of course, and the broadcasters are aghast that white spaces devices might possibly cause interference with the unblemished reception of their offerings as are users of wireless microphones which also use the same frequencies. The FCC is still investigating, but mark this one as up in the air at this point.