US pushes speedy broadband through unused TV airwaves

US regulators have set the ball rolling for new, faster wireless devices.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to open unused television airwaves for mobile broadband in a unanimous vote yesterday.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the move will be the organisation’s only significant release of unlicensed spectrum in 25 years.

“This new unlicensed spectrum will be a powerful platform for innovation as we’ve seen time and time again when we unleash American ingenuity, great things happen,” he told Reuters.

The empty airwaves, which are called “white spaces,” were freed up during the digital television transition in 2009 and consist of the spaces between existing broadcast channels.

The frequencies allow signals to travel faster, penetrate walls more easily and cover larger geographical areas than current spectrum used for WiFi. It’s said to boost internet speeds in homes, businesses, schools and municipalities. It could also help bring broadband to rural areas and improve connectivity for mobile devices.

However, some broadcasters have expressed concerns that the use of these empty channels could interfere with their channels, especially those which are used to operate wireless microphones that are relied on for news reporting.

The FCC responded by sticking in a requirement that white space devices access a database every 24 hours to check for available spectrum, so it won’t interfere with broadcaster channels. Surprise, surprise – Google wants in.

The agency also said two channels would be reserved for wireless microphones in each market, allowing 12 to 16 microphones to operate without any interference.

According to Reuters it’s expected to take at least a year and a half to two years as network operators, chip vendors and device manufacturers develop industry standards.