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FCC Ready For White-Space-Device Field Tests

The Federal Communications Commission is launching field tests of "prototype" white-spaces devices starting July 14.

Those are devices such as laptops and so-called smart radios that will share the spectrum with TV broadcasters -- the so-called white spaces between channels -- if the FCC concludes that they do not interfere with digital-TV reception.

The FCC has been testing the devices in its labs -- with mixed results depending on whom you ask -- but it said Thursday that it was ready to start field-testing.

The sites will be in suburban Maryland, where the FCC's test lab is also located, as well as in Washington, D.C., and will include rural, residential and urban areas, as well as an airport and a sports and entertainment venue, like a theater.

The FCC did not specify where the sports and entertainment tests would be held, but the National Football League offered to let it use M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, or FedEx Field, home to the Washington Redskins.

Broadcasters and microphone users -- including churches, sports producers and Broadway theaters -- have been fighting hard against allowing unlicensed mobile devices like laptops and spectrum-sensing radios to share the TV band without assurances that they will not interfere with those beautiful DTV pictures they are shifting to in February 2009 -- assurances broadcasters argued are next to impossible to supply given the unlicensed nature of the devices.

“We appreciate the commission’s efforts to continue testing these proposed unlicensed devices,” Association for Maximum Service Television president David Donovan said. “Given their failure in the lab, it is important that they undergo extensive and thorough testing. The risk of interference to consumers’ reception of free, over-the-air digital television is enormous. Testing in Maryland is a first step in the right direction. We look forward to working with the FCC at these and other locations.”

"The NAB has no quarrel with field tests, but based upon multiple failures of unlicensed devices in laboratory testing thus far," National Association of Broadcasters executive vice president Dennis Wharton said in a statement, "we remain highly skeptical that this technology will ever work as advertised."

The Wireless Innovation Alliance had a different takeaway from the news:

“Today’s announcement by the FCC affirms what we have known all along -- white space technology works and, as a result, the FCC continues to move the process forward,” spokesman Jake Ward said in an e-mailed response to the announcement. The alliance includes computer companies pushing the FCC to allow the devices. Given the extensive information gathered by the FCC, as well as the work done by the FCC, we expect the FCC to move forward with their final order immediately after this round of testing," he added.

"Shure applauds the Commission's decision to conduct field tests of wireless “white space” devices, and its decision to examine potential interference with wireless microphones at a sports venue and at an entertainment venue," said Mark Brunner, a spokesman for the microphone maker. "Shure looks forward to continuing to offer its full assistance and expertise to the Commission as it formulates the test parameters and protocol.  All stakeholders will be best served by data that is both comprehensive and meaningful."