By David Farnes, CATAAlliance Executive in Residence & Telecom Spokesperson
OTTAWA - To a packed room in a downtown Ottawa hotel, Industry Canada and the Radio Advisory Board of Canada (RABC) held a stakeholder meeting to kick off a consultation on the department’s TV White Space implementation plan. Seventy industry and government experts were in attendance for the daylong meeting, which included participants from as far away as Germany, Finland and the U.S.
TV White Space refers to frequencies in-between OTA television channels. In order to avoid interference between stations, they operate on different channels and unused spectrum is placed between the channels to further guard against interference. In parts of Canada the limited demand for TV stations results in unused spectrum that is also considered white space. This unused space is desirable, low frequency spectrum.
The technical consultation follows on the heels of the government’s decision late last year to allow unlicensed devices to use TV white space.
With today’s spectrum scarcity crunch, harvesting white space spectrum is generating a lot of excitement. The allocation of unlicensed white space in the United States has already begun to stimulate development of new wireless technologies and services. White spaces in the VHF and UHF bands are considered to be fertile spectrum that can be used to deliver broadband access over large areas; much like Wi-Fi spectrum can provide broadband access but only over very short distances. Additionally there is the potential to offer mobile services, at least within a specific geographic area.
White space spectrum is unlicensed, meaning any approved device can access it. It’s seen as an opportunity for medium-sized wireless internet service providers to get affordable access to spectrum – and it will allow for greater capacity or bandwidth and longer range communications.
In 2011 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the first device that could operate in the white space frequencies in the U.S. Several countries, including Canada, are now looking seriously at a TV white space implementation plan. While the decision to move ahead with white space has been made, there is a tremendous amount of work ahead to iron out the technical details. And that work is not without controversy.
Broadcasters are concerned over potential interference with their signals and equipment. These concerns are echoed by a large and diverse group that uses wireless microphones operating in a similar frequency. This user group includes the broadcasters themselves as well as performers, production companies and others using wireless microphones. It is estimated that there are between 100,000 and 200,000 wireless microphones in Canada and there is a legitimate and real concern that live TV broadcasts and live performances will be interrupted as a result of interference from white space devices.
Industry Canada has set an aggressive timetable to address these concerns. Technical working groups are being established along four tracks and are expected to meet bi-weekly until the end of the year when the Department hopes to publish its final documents. In order to address the concerns of broadcasters and users of wireless microphones, the FCC established a method for users of wireless microphones to register them. This required the creation of databases so that devices that want to access the white space can check a database to determine what spaces or frequencies are available for use.
While the first draft of the white space Radio Standards Specification (RSS-222) is subject to change based on input received during the consultation, it appears that Industry Canada intends to broadly harmonize its various technical requirements and processes with those of the FCC so that white space equipment and devices will work in both countries.
The review of the first draft of RSS 222 will begin in earnest early next month. In parallel, Industry Canada will consult with industry regarding the White Space Database Specifications. DBS-01, Issue 1, sets out the minimum technical requirements for the designation of a database capable of indicating available channels for use by white space devices in the white space frequency bands (i.e. 54-60 MHz, 76-88 MHz, 174-216 MHz, 470-608 MHz and 614-698 MHz). The department will also be undertaking a clean-up of its databases as well as the technical search interface to those databases (in fact, some of this work is already underway). Finally the department and industry will be grappling with how to licence, register or otherwise keep track of the thousands of wireless microphones that exist in Canada today.
There was general consensus that one of the lessons learned from the U.S. experience with white spaces is the need for excellent communication from the regulator to industry in order to foster co-operation among the players and the databases that will be developed. Industry Canada is off to a good start by leveraging its partnership with the RABC and bringing everyone together for a face-to-face kick-off to the consultations.