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Wireless Networking Networking United States

FCC To Open Up Vacant TV Airwaves For Broadband 187

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the why-the-heck-not dept.
crimeandpunishment writes "Get ready for 'super Wi-Fi.' If the FCC works out the last details of new spectrum rules, they'll open up the so-called 'white spaces'... the vacant airwaves between broadcast TV channels ... for wireless broadband connections. If the plan goes through, it will lead to Wi-Fi with longer range and stronger power. The stumbling blocks have included concerns about interference with TV signals and wireless microphones, but the FCC plans to vote next week on rules meant to resolve those issues."
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FCC To Open Up Vacant TV Airwaves For Broadband

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  • by scharkalvin (72228) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:11AM (#33561368) Homepage

    I'm glad the FCC is leaning toward unlicensed use of the spectrum instead of selling it to some M$ like concern. I hope they put enough common sense regulation in place to allow the spectrum to be used without mutual interference with itself. Digital TV is somewhat more imune to interference than analog, but the new wifi devices do need to be self configurable to avoid assigned TV channels.

    • >>>Digital TV is somewhat more imune to interference than analog

      False. I've switched to DTV and it's amazing what will block it. I turned on a vacuum cleaner and said goodbye to 50-mile distant channel 6 disappeared. In the old analog world it would have simple added some "fuzz" on the screen but still watchable. And when we have storms, we lose the DTV where the old analog signal never disappeared. DTV can no longer be relied upon for areas with bad weather (think Tornado Alley from Texas to

      • by theaveng (1243528)

        You are correct.

        The only channels currently not in use along Washington DC to New York City I95 corridor (and also including ?Harrisburg, Scranton) are 2, 3, 4, and 5. Everything else is reserved, leaving no room for whitespace TV Band Devices (TVBDs in FCC parlance).

    • P.S.

      >>>I'm glad the FCC is leaning toward unlicensed use of the spectrum instead of selling it to some M$ like concern

      Actually the FCC is planning to do both. They hatched the "open channels for wireless gadgets" idea in 2008, but also are planning to sell-off channel 26 and up for cellular usage. The FCC is following both plans. If Congress doesn't stop the FCC from doing plan #2 here's what I predict will happen:

      CBS / CW (single multiplexed channel)
      FOX / MyNetTV (single channel)
      NBC /Universal

      • by hedwards (940851) on Monday September 13, 2010 @12:49PM (#33562536)
        2 to 25 is plenty for most of the country. Around here, we'd have to more or less triple the stations to use that up. Probably have to go to HD to do it.

        As much sympathy as I have, why should most of the country suffer for what is an east coast centric problem? I get that there are a lot of people over there, but it got old a long time ago having to suffer for problems which are way over there.

        It shows a distinct arrogance to screw us once again over an issue that doesn't affect us.
        • by theaveng (1243528)

          why should most of the country suffer for what is an east coast centric problem?

          Because over half the country lives on the east coast or northeast, where this problem occurs. Majority rules, right? Right. ;-)

        • Because these frequencies are line of sight in coverage the FCC can have it both ways. Where the channels are needed for TV they can be used for this, in parts of the country where they are not used for TV they could be used for other services. Roaming devices would have to be able to switch channels when used in parts of the country where the channels are used for TV.

          • >>>Because these frequencies are line of sight in coverage the FCC can have it both ways.

            TV signals extend outward in a 100 mile wide circle. If you have a channel 10 in Boston, the next closest channel 10 would have to be in Philadelphia... at least 200 miles distant.
            .

            >>>in parts of the country where channels are not used for TV they could be used for other services.

            True but in real-world terms this means the Whitespace internet Device won't be usable anywhere east of the Mississippi. T

  • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:15AM (#33561412) Homepage Journal

    ...to whom will we have to fork over the hefty monthly charges to use our "public" airwaves?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Microsoft, Google, ATT, Verizon, and other internet/cellular/wireless companies.

      No more free ride like now (where I can see ~40 channels without charge). By the way I got rid of cable when I realized I was oly watching 5 of the shows. Kinda silly to spend ~$800 a year for just five cable shows. It's cheaper to rent the Season sets on DVD.

    • by troll -1 (956834)
      Mod parent up.

      The airways (a free medium) has become a cash cow for the government. The entry fee for competing in the wireless market is in the millions. It's one of the reasons you pay for things like texting and get nickel-and-dimed for crap.

      I hope _at least_ they don't auction any of this off to any of the incumbent cell phone companies [upsetgeek.com].
      • It's more of a cash cow for the corporations that buy the spectrum. Essentially what happened is, the govt. was mandated to use the public's airwaves in the public interest, and they decided it was in the public's best interest to auction the spectrum off so that the public's government can collect a $5 fee from the corporation for the corporation to have the right to sell it back to us for $500.

        Basically we're selling licenses to print money.

        • by theaveng (1243528)

          At least the Radio and TV licensees give us free entertainment. They pay about $100,000 per year per channel, and charge nothing to access it. IMHO that automatically makes them a preferred option over giving that TV and FM band to Cell or Wireless companies that charge us.

      • by bussdriver (620565)

        The bean counters nick and dime customers to death for sake of the ever increasing STOCK VALUE because its not a matter of profitability but of how much GROWTH and even the 2nd and possibly 3rd derivatives of anticipated value (and its not directly linked with profitability; more with perception and herd mentality.)

        The TAX they pay to use OUR airwaves should be paid, we can't give away OUR collective property to just anybody to exploit; although, we do too much of this already with dire consequences... Sur

        • by theaveng (1243528)

          You're not a communist pinko. You just don't seem to realize that government is horribly inefficient, due to a white collar welfare mentality (people don't get laid off even when work is slow). I know. I work there. Or see the recent article about a UK website that cost ~100 million dollars per year to maintain. Rather than choose inefficient monopoly, I'd prefer to have a pro-choice solution between multiple corporations, all competing to make the pricetag as cheap as possible.

          Also you used the roads

          • Government well regulated which does not happen all that often and promotes corruption which is what I've seen more of. I've seen well run government where it beat the private sector and I've seen it be a close call too.

            Something people often forget is GOVERNMENT IS THE PEOPLE, in a democracy this should be obvious but other forms it is indirectly the public's fault for the actions of their government. You need to stop thinking of government as something you are not a part of-- yet hypocritically you proba

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Well, nobody owns wifi spectrum, do they? I don't have an ISP, yet my wifi works just fine, thanks to the kind souls who don't lock down their connections. This could lead to a nationwide mesh network that was hooked to the internet via coffeeshops, libraries, and the like.

      • by hedwards (940851)
        That's what open-mesh [open-mesh.com] was created specifically to do. The devices themselves are cheap and easy to set up. And they provide you with efficient tools to connect up to billing services and authentication if you wish to.
  • Imo, TV signals are a waste of bandwidth... There must be other ways to transmit TV these days, so they should free a lot of those frequencies for use by wireless networks. It probably won't happen any time soon, but I have no doubt that's the way forward.
    • There must be other ways to transmit TV these days

      I agree, what we really need is a means to transmit a video and audio signal in a manner which can reach almost our entire population. If only there were a means to do this without us having to lay down thousands of miles of data lines, either hanging on poles, or underground.

      • I realize I was being a bit snarky there, but currently TV does provide a useful service. At the time, it was really the only way to broadcast a message quickly and efficiently to pretty much everyone.

        It is a limited resource with respect to the fact that you can really only have one entity use a section of it at a time, but it is also unlimited with respect to the fact that it never decreases with respect to how much you use it. ie: it remains unchanged if you use it for 10 seconds or 100 years. (Not tr

        • The thing is, step 3 is not as huge as it sounds. Only the most densely-populated areas will benefit from better usage of available frequencies, so new infrastructure is only needed for big cities and such.
      • >>>what we really need is a means to transmit a video and audio signal in a manner which can reach almost our entire population. If only there were a means to do this without us having to lay down thousands of miles of data lines, either hanging on poles, or underground.
        >>>

        What about a centralized antenna that broadcasts 24 hours a day, and homeowners can capture that audiovideo signal with some kind of recording device? Call it a Tape Video Recorder or TVR or some variant thereof. Then

        • by hedwards (940851)
          Using bandwidth to service people at home is asinine. There is admittedly a reasonable argument for people in the middle of nowhere, but in cities there's absolutely no justification for it when you can lay wire.

          I assume that you're trolling, because otherwise you're just an obtuse jack ass. There are ways of hooking up the poor, other than the antenna, and assuming that it's impossible only maintains the status quo.
          • by theaveng (1243528)

            I live in the middle of te northeast city called the Northeast Megalopolis (i.e. along I95).

            You're right. I could get my TV through the wires but the cost is over $1000 per year (CATV) or $2000 (wireless internet). And I'm not poor. But why should I have to pay that much money when an antenna gets me 95% of the same shows free of charge. Why do ye insist upon killing an excellent service that costs us consumers nothing to access?

    • by bjwest (14070)

      Ummmm.. How the hell do you reckon they transmit something over the air without using radio waves? Not every house in the country has cable access, and the telephone lines sure as hell won't carry one channel, much less the "Big Three", PBS and Fox...

      • by theaveng (1243528)

        FOX is now part of the "Big Four". In fact it came in 2nd place the last two years. Plus The CW network at number 5, MyNetworkTV number 6, and finally ION (dead last). PBS too.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Data still takes bandwidth, and we can't get more than 19.39 Mbps into a single 6 MHz channel (at least with 8VSB). So until we switch to another modulation scheme (and obsolete all the new ATSC equipment) we're stuck at 19.39 Mbps. We can pack more program streams into the transport stream but with MPEG2 which is currently mandated we can only do that by reducing the quality of existing streams. (Not the programming quality, that's an entirely different subject.) MPEG4 can help significantly but that wo

      • by theaveng (1243528)

        Here's a quick off-the-top of my head list of all the channels I get for free. How the heck do you propose to squeeze all of these into only channels 2 to 25, per the FCC's just-released Broadband Plan to sell off everything above 25. Even with MPEG4 it would be impossible to keep all of these:

        - MAJOR NETS: abc, cbs, fox, nbc, cw, mynettv, ion, pbs
        - Other nets: univision, telemundo, telefutura
        - independents: MINDtv, Megahertz, Link, a local religious station, a 20 hour shopping channel plus 4 hour news
        - o

        • by Sepodati (746220)

          Maybe in your market you get less free stuff. Oh well.

          How many of those channels are HD? With MPEG4, you can get two HD programs in one channel, although some people debate whether the quality is good enough (aligned with their agenda, no doubt). You can fit several SD programs on a single channel. Channel-sharing would go a long way here, if you can get people to play nice.

          • by theaveng (1243528)

            Maybe in your market you get less free stuff. Oh well.

            And what do I gain? A $2000 a year wireless phone or internet bill. Yay. You are failing to sell me why shrinking the TV Band to 25 channels is something I should support.

            • by Sepodati (746220)

              Why do you have to gain something? You're paying $0 now and you'll pay $0 in the future. Does it really matter if it's less? You're still not paying anything.

              I don't expect you to support it. You're entitled to the amount of free TV you're getting right now and it shouldn't be decreased, regardless of whether the end result is beneficial to more people than yourself. Right?

            • by Sepodati (746220)

              I'll also add that I don't think broadcast TV is going to go anywhere anytime soon. It'll be around for a while. While only 15% of the population receive TV over-the-air (OTA), 50% of cable head-ends still receive signals OTA before placing the signals on cable. I don't know how many satellite sources receive signals over the air, but I doubt it's a trivial number. Broadcast OTA is going to be around for a while.

              The only way I can see it going away is if the FCC mandates a truly free package on cable and sa

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by russotto (537200)

        1. Most of the time channels could share a single transport stream, but it will be quite difficult to get competing media corps to do that.

        And you have to either throw away HD, or switch to MPEG-4 (obseleting receivers, etc). A single 19Mpbs transport stream can't hold two decent-quality 720p MPEG-2 channels, so either you go with 480p or you overcompress to the point that it looks worse than 480p.

        • by TheSync (5291)

          A single 19Mpbs transport stream can't hold two decent-quality 720p MPEG-2 channels

          You are so correct! This is the single most intelligent comment I have ever seen on Slashdot!

          I'll admit, it is not impossible to imagine that some day we might figure out how to build MPEG-2 encoders to achieve this (quantum computer motion prediction?) but for the foreseeable future, please keep one HD per 19.39 Mbps, maybe with one SD channel muxed in as well.

    • There must be other ways to transmit TV these days, so they should free a lot of those frequencies for use by wireless networks.

      Well, as long as you're not too concerned about signal range, graceful degradation, patents, and codec artefacts, then yes digital TV is another method of transmitting television signals. In addition, all those shiny new wireless networks will be leased out by the government for big cash payments to private companies who will in turn gouge you and your neighbours for the use of tho

    • Re:TV signals (Score:5, Insightful)

      by commodore64_love (1445365) on Monday September 13, 2010 @12:00PM (#33561906) Journal

      >>>Imo, TV signals are a waste of bandwidth...

      Not really. They stream ~20 Mbit/s of video to approximately 0.5 million homes per city/market. That's over 6000 gigabytes of television/news per home, or 3,000,000 terabytes total. Show me any internet or cellphone that can do the same, and at $0.00 cost per year. You can't. - (Imo, only a fool pays for watching Supernatural or CSI or whatever else you enjoy, when it's available for free.)

      • by theaveng (1243528)

        You're right. 3,000,000,000 gigabytes is a hell of a lot of data sent to 1/2 million homes every month.

        - It's equivalent to send 60 million Bluray Discs to every home in Baltimore, every single month.
        - And another 60 million Blurays to every home in Washington DC, every single month.
        - And another 60 million to every home in Richmond Virginia, every single month...

        times all 200 television markets. All at Zero cost to the consumers.

    • by tverbeek (457094)

      Broadcast TV is a great example of a effective use of wireless technology. As a one-to-many, one-way method of communication with an indeterminate number of receiving stations, the use of radio waves makes perfect sense. ("Radio waves want to radiate.") Same with audio-only TV (aka radio). It's a great use for that bandwidth, not a waste.

      Pretty much every other use of radio technology is less suited to the use of radio waves. You have an indeterminate number of concurrent users on the same frequencies,

      • by theaveng (1243528)

        They are systems that scale horribly, in terms of users and in terms of area. This is why cell service almost variably sucks,

        And the quality went down. Back when we had analog phones the sound was not great, but it was still better than the current overcompressed MP3-style cellphones. These modern voicecalls make your mom or grandma or whoever sound like they were "autotuned".

        "Hey gramps, you sound just like Kanye West!" ;-) And it's only going to get worse as they shrink the voice line from 8 downto 4 downto 2 kbit/s streams, so they can squeeze more and more calls in their fixed bandwidth.

        Copper and fiber are much better medium-distance and long-haul carriers

        And multipliable. Wireless h

    • by TheSync (5291)

      TV signals are a waste of bandwidth...

      As of 2007, 14% of all U.S. television households, or 15.36 million, rely on over-the-air broadcasts for their TV viewing. I suspect this number hasn't changed much, as any loss from the DTV transition has probably been made up for by people dropping cable/DBS for free OTA TV due to the economy.

    • ... how you intend to "transmit" TV signals without using bandwidth. If you're going to broadcast TV at all, you're either sending signals over the air (and using some part of the RF spectrum) or you're sending them via cable. And sure, a lot of people do get their television via cable... but similarly, a lot of people can't afford or aren't within the service area for cable.
  • If they're planning on using bands within or nearby the current digital channels, I suspect that folks may be able to hack the current lineup of WRTs to spit out an ATSC signal. This would actually be really good thing for the diy crowd. Everyone needs their own pirate TV station. I haven't seen any F/OSS ATSC modulation code in the wild yet though.
    • by TheSync (5291)

      I suspect that folks may be able to hack the current lineup of WRTs to spit out an ATSC signal.

      No, there is absolutely no way this could occur. ATSC is 8VSB modulation, which is completely unrelated to the modulation technique used in WiFi.

      But if you really want to try, here is all you need to do... [atsc.org].

      Beyond that, the creation of a 19 Mbps MPEG-2 TS of appropriate quality for DTV broadcast (PCR accuracy of 500nS, for example) is pretty tough to do without professional equipment, though maybe you could make

  • by jjeffries (17675) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:49AM (#33561782)
    when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

    Hey good lookin, we'll be back to pick you up later!

  • Once devices are built that are able to broadcast on these frequencies it would stand to reason that staying off the frequencies when they are "occupied" will be regulated by software. How long before a hacker mods one of these to broadcast on frequencies that it should not be using?
    • by Atryn (528846)

      How long before a hacker mods one of these to broadcast on frequencies that it should not be using?

      Broadcasting on frequencies you shouldn't be is trivial and can be done with off-the-shelf equipment today very easily. Its also illegal and not that hard to locate the broadcast antenna. I wouldn't even call this activity "hacking"... its just unlicensed broadcasting in a licensed band.

      • How long before a hacker mods one of these to broadcast on frequencies that it should not be using?

        Broadcasting on frequencies you shouldn't be is trivial and can be done with off-the-shelf equipment today very easily. Its also illegal and not that hard to locate the broadcast antenna. I wouldn't even call this activity "hacking"... its just unlicensed broadcasting in a licensed band.

        For someone trained in such yeah. For a script kiddie - not so much. This would make it absurdly easy (read script kiddie level) to do and the nuisance value could be quite high. I hope the FCC has thought this out. Abuse is always possible, but it shouldn't be too easy or else it will become commonplace.

    • by theaveng (1243528)

      About one week. Trying to watch the game on channel 10? Well too bad because the hacker kid next door is broadcasting over top of it. And even though FCC rules require people to turn off TV Band whitespace gadgets if they interfere with licensed TV reception, there's no way to enforce those rules. The kid can just ignore your request
      .

    • by TheSync (5291)

      How long before a hacker mods one of these to broadcast on frequencies that it should not be using?

      This isn't the real problem, TV band Broadband Devices (TVBD) will cause problems as described in this article [tvtechnology.com]:

      My experiments convince me that third-order distortion products generated by a triplet of strong broadband signals from nearby TVBD radiating 4 watts may cause loss of DTV reception on any of a large number of channels. This interference mechanism is not recognized by the FCC as a significant threat

  • "The stumbling blocks have included concerns about interference with... wireless microphones"

    So what's the over/under for the NSA torpedoing the plan?

  • Phased Arrays Yet? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday September 13, 2010 @12:41PM (#33562424) Homepage Journal

    Phased array [wikipedia.org] antennas can detect the 3D position of the source of a signal, distinguished from other transmitter locations sending on the same frequency. It's how humans with eyes can tell there's two blades of grass in front of them, not just "it's green out".

    A phased array could make frequency segregation unnecessary, and vastly increase bandwidth without interference. By doing so, it would completely destroy the entire basis of the FCC, except as certification that phased array devices work properly.

    How far along has phased array tech come for either stationary devices like base stations, relocatable ones like notebooks, or low power ones like phones? Products with these features are long overdue, and mobile telecom will be revolutionized by them.

    • by russotto (537200)

      Phased array antennas can detect the 3D position of the source of a signal, distinguished from other transmitter locations sending on the same frequency. It's how humans with eyes can tell there's two blades of grass in front of them, not just "it's green out".

      Problem is that at VHF and UHF frequencies, the atmosphere looks like wavy glass (often in motion) and there's funhouse mirrors everywhere.

    • by s122604 (1018036) on Monday September 13, 2010 @01:11PM (#33562818)
      "By doing so, it would completely destroy the entire basis of the FCC" -- I think that is a tad premature...
      Google adaptive beam-forming, this is what you are referring to. It is used in the electronic warfare field, and a crude version of it has even made its way into some lower power consumer equipment like N-band routers...Creating an adaptable phased array directional enough to null out, to the point of non-interference one of two powerful/closely located transmitters is no easy, or cheap task.

      Also, we aren't talking about a 2.4GHZ router. On the low end of UHF, there is also a significant size/portability issue governed by physics/antenna theory that won't be solved even if you figured out the economic issue.
      The idea that adaptive beamforming is going to come to every piece of consumer VHF/UHF equipment and make the FCC irrelevant is wildly optimistic
  • next you'll be telling me people still listen to actual "radio" stations, versus stations on pandora/live365/XM/etc.

    Silly talk. What year is this? Isn't our Jupiter orbiter with a crazy AI neighbored by a super-massive baby by now?

  • Cognitive Radio (Score:3, Interesting)

    by erice (13380) on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:36PM (#33565478) Homepage

    This is tentative step toward cognitive radio [wikipedia.org].

    They are reusing channels that are allocated for television but not actually in use for that purpose in particular areas. TV is pretty easy to work with. There are few, powerful, transmitters and they transmit all the time. In TFA, some even suggested using GPS and a database to figure out which channels are available.

    That's pretty crude. In a fully cognitive radio system, the device listens for transmitters on a range of frequencies. If it finds open spectrum, it sets up shop. This can be tricky as it has to distinguish vacant channels from ones that are occupied but with a weak signal. Also, the owner could simply be off line. When the licensed transmitter comes back, the cognitive radios must vacate.

    Still, the potential is huge. In principle, *all* licensed bands could be reused by cognitive radios. At any given time and space, a great deal of valuable spectrum is simply wasted. The licensee, if they even exist in this area, isn't using the channel and no one else is allowed. Cognitive radio would open up those regions to the rest of us.

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