TV "White Space" Devices Go Nationwide

New action follows December roll-out to eastern states.

TV “white space” devices, which operate on an unlicensed basis in locally vacant TV spectrum, are now authorized nationwide. This is pretty fast, by Government standards; just last December the FCC okayed the first large-scale roll-out to seven eastern states plus Washington, D.C. The class of approved coordinators for the database these devices rely on to find open channels is growing much more slowly. Also growing slowly is the number of FCC-approved devices that can use the service; we count just five so far.

FCC Approves "White Space" Devices in Eastern U.S.

New systems must protect many other services from interference.

Fully four years after adopting rules for unlicensed TV Band Devices (TVBDs), also called “white space” systems, the FCC has authorized roll-out beyond the two small test areas previously approved. Touted by advocates as “Wi-Fi on steroids,” TVBDs can now boot up in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, and North Carolina.

The FCC expects to extend authorization nationwide by mid-January.

TVBDs are required to avoid causing interference to multiple services: broadcast TV; fixed broadcast auxiliary service links; receive sites for TV translators, low power TVs, Class A TVs, and multichannel video programming distributors; public safety and private land mobile; offshore radio telephone; radio astronomy; and “low power auxiliary service,” which includes licensed (and some unlicensed) wireless microphones. 

The complexity of the TVBD rules results from the need to ensure that all of these services can operate unharmed. In many metropolitan areas having multiple TV channels and heavy use of wireless microphones, vacant spectrum for TVBDs is already scarce. The FCC’s ongoing plans to consolidate TV broadcasters onto fewer channels, so as to free up more spectrum for wireless use, will only make things worse.

Simultaneously with the spread of TVBDs into the Middle Atlantic states, the FCC expanded its registration program for wireless microphones from those same states out to the rest of the country, keeping the wireless mic registrations a step ahead of the TVBD roll-out.

FCC Launches Nationwide Registration of Wireless Microphones

Registration is needed to protect qualifying events from interference caused by TV Band Devices

The FCC has expanded its registration program for wireless microphones from the Middle Atlantic states to the rest of the country.   Registration helps to protect qualifying wireless microphones that operate in vacant TV channels from interference caused by TV Band Devices (TVBDs), also called “white space” systems, that likewise use vacant TV slots.

When the FCC established rules for TVBDs, it required those devices to avoid interfering not only with TV stations, but also with several other categories of equipment operating on TV frequencies. The most populous of those, by far, are the wireless microphones that are ubiquitous in TV, stage, and film production.

Most wireless microphones used in TV and films are licensed by the FCC.  Most others – including those used in stage shows, churches, and the FCC meeting room – operated illegally until January 2010, when the FCC authorized low-power models on an unlicensed basis by waiver. (As it considers whether to make those rules permanent, the FCC recently sought to update the record on wireless microphone issues generally.)

Two TV channels in every market are closed to TVBDs, so as to leave room for wireless microphones. Licensed wireless microphones needing additional channels are entitled to interference protection from TVBDs. So are unlicensed microphones on other channels, but only if used for major sporting events, live theatrical productions and shows, and similar occasions that require more microphones than the set-aside channels can accommodate.

To implement protection, qualified events must register in the database that controls which frequencies TVBDs can use at each location. The FCC has authorized the operation of TVBDs in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, and North Carolina, and expects nationwide authorization by mid-January. Those who distribute or use wireless microphones should make sure any needed registrations are in place before TVBDs are deployed in their vicinity.

The details of the registration process are available here. The conditions and procedures are complex; and the FCC cautions that most uses of unlicensed wireless microphone do not qualify for registration. We recommend planning ahead.

Update: Wireless Mic Comment Deadlines Extended Again

Not surprisingly, the FCC has extended the comment deadlines in the wireless microphone proceeding again. In that proceeding, of course, the Commission is looking into how best to accommodate wireless mics in the face of the dwindling amount of vacant television spectrum space on which those mics have historically been allowed to operate. We reported on the last extension just a couple of weeks ago. The goal of that first extension was to sync up the comment deadlines in the wireless mic proceeding with those in the Incentive Auction proceeding, since the latter is likely to have a significant impact on the former. 

But since then the Commission extended the comment periods in the Incentive Auction docket. To maintain the synchronicity between those deadlines and the wireless mic deadlines, the Commission has, on its own motion, moved the wireless mic deadlines as well. Comments are now due by January 25, 2013, and replies by March 12, 2013.

Update: Wireless Mic Comment Deadlines Extended

The comment deadlines have been extended in the FCC’s inquiry about how best to accommodate wireless microphones in the face of the dwindling amount of vacant television spectrum space on which those mics have historically been allowed to operate. The original comment deadline was the day before Thanksgiving, but that date has now been pushed back 30 days.  The extension was granted at the request of a number of parties who want to coordinate (a) their comments in the wireless mic proceeding with (b) their comments in the separate Incentive Auctions proceeding, which will have an impact on (among other things) accommodation of wireless mics in the repacked spectrum contemplated by the Incentive Auctions proposals.  Comments are now due by December 21, 2012, and replies by February 19, 2013 (the same deadlines as in the Incentive Auction proceeding).

Update: Effective Date for Expanded MedRadio Rules Set

Back in December we reported on the expansion of the Medical Device Radiocommunication Service (MedRadio) to permit use of 24 megahertz of spectrum in the 413-457 MHz range for wideband devices implanted in the body. The new rules have now been published in the Federal Register, which means that they become effective on February 27, 2012.

Sometimes the FCC Gets on Our Nerves

New rules allow communication with implanted devices that help restore function to damaged nerves and muscles.

The FCC has authorized the use of 24 megahertz of spectrum in the 413-457 MHz range for wideband devices implanted in the body. Part of the FCC’s MedRadio service, these devices will help treat neurological injuries and disorders by monitoring and activating nerves and muscles to restore sensation and mobility. The action adopts proposals the FCC laid out back in 2009.

The original proponent for the rules, the Alfred Mann Foundation, describes the technology as an “artificial nervous system” that uses electric signals to improve or replace the function of a nervous system impaired by mishap or disease. Patients who might benefit include those suffering from traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and various neuromuscular disorders. A person might have several implanted devices that together make up a wireless network, coordinated by an external programmer/controller. Because the devices must transmit a lot of information in short bursts, they require substantial bandwidth, up to 5 MHz. The 400 MHz band is suitable because signals in this range can propagate through body tissues. Authorized power levels are very low, no more than 25 microwatts.

The new devices can operate in four bands: 413-419 MHz, 426-432 MHz, 438-444 MHz, and 451-457 MHz. These, needless to say, are already occupied (as is virtually all of the spectrum below about 50 GHz). Current users include private land mobile, public safety, TV news, and amateur operators. Some of these parties claimed the implanted devices would cause them harmful interference, but the FCC disagreed, based on test results in the record. Some also feared that if their equipment caused interference in the other direction (i.e., interfered with the implanted systems), they would have to turn down power so as to protect the well-being of persons who have the devices installed. The FCC addressed this concern by making the implanted devices “secondary” to other licensed users. In English, this means the new devices may not cause harmful interference to, and must accept all interference from, other licensed services.

Declaring the implanted devices to be secondary solves a legal problem, but does nothing to fix the underlying practical question. The FCC is probably right that a microwatt-level transmitter embedded in body tissue poses little interference threat to a licensed receiver. But we wonder about a person dependent on these devices who lives next door, say, to an amateur licensee operating at the maximum allowed power, which is 1500 watts. Legally, the implantee has no recourse if his internal network malfunctions. He is unlikely even to know that his ham neighbor is responsible for the problem. The rules require the external programmer/controller to monitor all four bands at least once per second and, if necessary, to move the entire network to a quieter band. To cover the case where none of the four bands is usable, the devices must be programmed to shut down in an orderly way. The small risk of that happening, says the FCC, is outweighed by the devices’ potential benefits.

There is also some small risk of interference among multiple people with these devices being congregated in a small area, as could happen in a medical facility. The FCC rejected proposals to require listen-before-talk circuits and contention-based protocols (which require competing systems to take turns). Instead it simply called on manufacturers to cooperate in setting standards for the industry.

Weak though they are, the device transmitters are too powerful to qualify as unlicensed devices. The FCC accordingly lumped them into the “Citizens Band” (CB) category. In theory a CB user requires a license, but need not actually apply for one. Anyone using the service with approved equipment is simply deemed to be licensed. Along with use by truckers (“10-4, Good Buddy”), the CB service also includes a host of other operations whose power is low enough individual licenses are not worth the bother.

Effective Dates Set For Wireless Mic Clear-Out Process

The FCC has received approval from the Office of Management and Budget to implement its new rules clearing wireless microphones out of TV Channels 52-69 (the 700 MHz band). We reported on the adoption of those rules last month. OMB approval affects some of the deadlines in the clearing-out process. Those deadlines are now as follows:

  • At any time on or after February 17, 2010, Public Safety and commercial licensees who are ready to occupy 700 MHz band channels may give notice to wireless microphone users to clear out.  (See Section 74.802(e)(2))
  • Effective February 28, 2010, anyone who sells or leases wireless microphones (or offers them for sale or lease) must provide a “Consumer Alert” on their websites, in their product catalogs, and on microphone packaging, using FCC-specified wording.  (See Sections 15.216 and 74.851(i)).
  • Effective June 15, 2010, any wireless microphone that operates above 698 MHz must be for export only and labeled that it may not be operated in the United States. (See Section 74.851(h)).

The June 12, 2010, deadline by which all wireless microphone users must stop operating on Channels 52-69 (698-806 MHz), remains unchanged.

Sometimes the FCC Just Gets Under Our Skin

As radio transmitters get smaller, they are turning up in the oddest places. Including people's innards, with implanted medical devices now sending out reports on conditions inside. These include cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators that have monitoring and reporting capabilities, and devices used for diabetic glucose monitoring and control.

Two recent FCC actions will facilitate this ongoing communication through the skin.

One is an expansion of the ten-year-old Medical Implant Communications Service, now renamed the Medical Device Radiocommunication Service, or MedRadio. The new rules increase the available spectrum for implants from 402-405 to 401-406 MHz. External, body-worn devices are also allowed in the newly added 401-402 and 405-406 MHz segments.

Power is limited to 25 microwatts. Each device must monitor the frequencies it intends to use before it transmits, except that units can just blast away (if that is the right word, at these power levels) using 100 or 250 nanowatts maximum, depending on frequency, with strict duty cycle limits.

The transmitters are “licensed by rule.” This means they are deemed to be licensed even though the user does not actually have a license – just like CB radios. In fact, to get around a pesky statute that limits license-by-rule to just a few services, the implanted radios are defined to be CB radios. Breaker One-Nine, good buddy, and how’s the spleen doing?

The order adopting the new MedRadio rules is here.  

In a related action, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning “implantable neuromuscular microstimulation devices.” These would be multiple devices surgically installed in a person to communicate with each other, under control of an outside device, essentially operating as an artificial nervous system. Beneficiaries could include those with spinal cord injury, diseases such as multiple sclerosis, polio, cerebral palsy, and ALS, and combat injuries.

To handle these devices, the FCC proposes to make available one or more of the segments at 413-419, 426-432, 438-444, and 451-457 MHz. It also lays out ideas for operational and technical rules. The NPRM is here.

Maybe now men will finally get in touch with their inner feelings. By radio.