After a suffering a setback last month when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found flaws in a new Microsoft-produced wireless broadband device that could enable the use of the so-called white spaces in radio spectrum airwaves for high-speed Internet traffic, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is getting set to try again this week.
Microsoft plans to file a document Monday with the FCC that disputes the commission’s findings, according to a Washington Post report. Even though the first device was rejected, Microsoft has reportedly fixed a flaw and demonstrated the device again for the FCC.
The White Space Promise
The idea driving Microsoft’s effort is that a new generation of portable wireless devices could connect to the Internet through a new service that would be broadcast side-by-side with existing TV airwaves without interfering with those transmissions.
Microsoft is part of a group of tech companies called the White Spaces Coalition, which is lobbying for an FCC change that would allow the use of the open airwaves. The coalition consists of Microsoft, Google, Dell, HP, Intel and others.
The technology, they say, could deliver broadband speeds that could reach 50 to 100 mbps (megabits per second), as well as conceivably help drive down broadband Internet costs for consumers.
The problem with using the white space in the radio spectrum is that it could cause interference with existing broadcasts and cellular signals. Organizations that are paying for the right to use the airwaves, of course, oppose the White Spaces Coalition’s proposal — they don’t want static, poor reception or any other possible problem.
After the first round of testing found issues with Microsoft’s device, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton noted that the “FCC testing results confirm what NAB, MSTV and others have long contended: that the portable, unlicensed devices proposed by high-tech firms can’t make the transition from theory to actuality without compromising interference-free television reception.”
“There are a lot of companies that are now very excited about wireless that don’t seem to understand the history of wireless regulation and its strengths, weaknesses, pros and cons and how the FCC has evolved over the years,” Bill Hughes, principal analyst for In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld.
One of the most basic rules that the FCC operates under is the notion that new technologies can’t interfere with existing uses. Critics have argued that the FCC could be more aggressive in the adoption of technology, but the FCC tends to err on the side of caution.
“The FCC, throughout its history, has been approached with a lot of really good ideas for technology, and as a policy, the FCC tends not to get too caught up in them,” Hughes explained.
“They’ve been very reluctant to change policy to meet technological developments because one of two things happen — either those great technologies tend to be superseded or they are smoke and mirrors and tend to work only under very controlled environments,” he noted.
“Even companies as prestigious as Microsoft, Google, Dell, HP, Intel … the fact that they have a cool technology, I think … if history is any guide, the FCC will nod politely and not realistically change anything. The FCC is responsible for regulating billions of dollars worth of stuff, and they don’t rush into anything — and they expect lawsuits on everything. So these companies don’t particularly excite or intimidate them.”