Oct 152010
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But now comes the hard part: making phones, PCs and other mobile gadgets that can take advantage of the broadcast spectrum’s strong signals.

Consumer electronics companies got an early Christmas present this year when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to grant unlicensed smart phones, computers and other wireless devices approval to connect to the Internet via vacant “white space” airwaves. Exactly which Christmas, however, is less clear—consumer electronics–makers wanting to take advantage of broadcast spectrum space abandoned as a result of last year’s shift to digital television have much work ahead of them to meet the requirements laid out by the FCC.

In a formal ruling on September 23 the FCC assured broadcasters and incumbent users of the spectrum that they will be protected from interference by new, unlicensed wireless gadgets seeking to use white spaces. In a statement (doc) the agency called its move the “first significant block of spectrum made available for unlicensed use in more than 20 years.”

In addition to the requirement that mobile phones, netbooks, tablets and other devices have access to the information needed to determine their position and consult an FCC-approved geographic database listing licensed broadcast spectrum users (in particular, TV stations) in their area, the FCC reserved two vacant UHF channels for licensed wireless microphones and other low-power auxiliary service devices in all areas of the country.

The FCC’s decision is a boon for Internet addicts, who can look forward to faster, more reliable wireless connections via the broadcast spectrum. White space access is also a shot in the arm to makers of mobile devices (as well as the operating systems, apps and chips that these gadgets use) who covet the broadcast spectrum’s low-frequency waves, which have strong propagation characteristics allowing the signals to reach farther than wi-fi and penetrate walls and other impediments (doc).

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