Google suggests safe harbor for wireless mics

Proposal asks FCC to set aside TV channels 36 to 38 to avoid spectrum interference, but company's ultimate goal is to clear the way for approval of white-space devices

Google has asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to carve out a set of off-limits channels for proposed wireless devices that could operate in unused television spectrum bands, in hopes that the proposal will help the FCC approve the use of so-called white-space devices.

Google, in a filing to the FCC made late Friday, proposed that the FCC set aside television channels 36 to 38 for wireless microphone use to avoid spectrum interference. Users of wireless microphones and U.S. television stations have been the main opponents to the push by Google, Microsoft, Dell, and other tech companies for the FCC to approve the use of new wireless devices in the unused white spaces in the television spectrum.

Companies asking the FCC to open up the spectrum white spaces see new markets for high-speed wireless devices, or "WiFi on steroids," in the language of Richard Whitt, Google's Washington, D.C., telecom and media counsel.

The white spaces "offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide ubiquitous wireless broadband access to all Americans," Google's filing said. "This spectrum can provide robust infrastructure to serve the needs of under-deployed rural areas, as well as first responders and others in the public safety community."

Google filed the proposal with the goal of moving the FCC's white spaces proceeding to a "more constructive tone," Whitt said. "We believe it's unfortunate that some have preferred the comfort of the past to the promise of the future, and are using their influence to convince policymakers to protect legacy applications at any and all costs."

The Google proposal also suggests that the FCC could require two spectrum-sensing technologies called geo-location and beacons -- the low-cost beacons would have to be added to wireless microphones -- to ensure against interference. That portion of the Google filing borrows from a Motorola filing late last year.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has raised concerns that the white space devices would cause interference with television signals. Instead of pushing through the white space proceeding, the FCC should focus on the transition of television stations to digital broadcasts, mandated by Congress to happen by February 2009, the NAB has said. The transition is freeing up spectrum in the 700MHz band for wireless services; an FCC spectrum auction for the band concluded last week.

The Google proposal would create a so-called safe harbor for wireless microphones between channels 36 and 38 in the television spectrum. That safe harbor would also protect medical telemetry devices and radio astronomy services, which use channel 37, Google said.

Google's filing with the FCC said an opening of the white spaces, combined with the Google-sponsored Android open source mobile platform, could "provide uniquely low-cost mobile broadband coverage for all Americans." Google offered to provide free technical support to third parties wishing to deploy services using the white spaces.

The FCC is currently testing four white-space prototype devices. In February, the power in one of the devices failed, but it did not interfere with TV signals, according to the White Spaces Coalition. Another white-space device malfunctioned in tests by the FCC last year.

The NAB, in February, called white-space devices "not ready for prime time." Spokesmen for the NAB and Shure, a wireless microphone manufacturer, were not immediately available for comments on the new Google proposal.