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Feb 10, 2010

Unlicensed access to television broadcasting spectrum in the US

static noiseNovember 2008 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopts rules for unlicensed access to unused television spectrum in the US. This was a brave decision since the detection technology required for unintrusive spectrum access (usually called cognitive radio) was (and is) not mature yet. In fact the technical proposal FCC 08-260 recognizes the difficulty of completely avoiding the harmful interference to primary users. To overcome the technical drawback of primary signal detection an alternative approach is proposed:

All devices, except personal/portable devices operating in client mode, must include a geolocation capability and provisions to access over the Internet a database of protected radio services and the locations and channels that may be used by the unlicensed devices at each location."

Moreover, to avoid co-channel interference to primary users the FCC proposal rules that even neighboring channels are prohibited to secondary devices. Fixed and personal/portable devices must also have a capability to sense TV broadcasting and wireless microphone signals as a further means to minimize potential interference. The devices that rely only on spectrum sensing to avoid causing harmful interference will be subject to a rigorous process of testing by FCC's Laboratory.

But, how did the proposal evolve?

Analogue television broadcasting switch off in the US was initially planned for the 17th February 2009, day in which unlicensed devices could start to use the spectrum. Though some reports described the transition to digital TV flowing smoothly, the official switch off date was delayed until June 2009.

But only last November the FCC did open the call for proposals from potential database managers.

Potential administrators have to demonstrate expertise and present a business plan for the next five years. Additionally proposals should outline the information stored, a process for incumbents to register, and the query procedure. Some members of the "White Spaces Database Group" are Comsearch, Dell, Fox, Google Inc., Microsoft Corporation, Motorola, NetLogix, Neustar, Phillips, Spectrum Bridge, SWIM and Waterford Consultants, LLC. Now the call is closed and public and industry have until 18th February 2010 to comment on the proposals.

All these delays on the initial plan are motivated because USA is the first country opening the unused spectrum. However the existing technical challenges are being addressed by both american industry and research community. While this happens american companies gain experience and establish an infrastructure that will assure their leadership when other countries start opening this new market.

One question comes to my mind at this point, and is What can Europe learn from this?

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