Get Ready to Innovate! FCC Approves White Spaces Rules

UPDATED: The Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved new rules for the unlicensed use white spaces, the empty or under-utilized TV spectrum that many are hoping could lead to a new form of super Wi-Fi.

This is the first distribution of unlicensed spectrum in 25 years, and follows the release of former “junk” spectrum that eventually was used for Wi-Fi, garage door openers and cordless phones. The new spectrum is even more prized because its lower frequency can reach farther, pass through walls more easily and cover areas more efficiently with faster potential speeds. Companies like Google(s goog),  Microsoft (s msft), Dell (s dell) and HP (s hpq) have pushed for the use of white spaces in hopes it can lead to new applications and devices that extend wireless connectivity. The technology can also be used for smart meter monitoring, connecting rural communities, increased backhaul, in-home networking and expanded hot spots.

“This new unlicensed spectrum will be a powerful platform for innovation,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. “When we unleash American ingenuity, great things happen.”

The commission agreed to set aside two channels for wireless microphone use to limit the potential of interference with live performances, a fear for performers. But the commissioners did not require device makers to install geo-location spectrum sensing technology on future devices to ensure they do not interfere with incumbent users of the spectrum such as TV channels. Instead, the sensing technology will be voluntary for manufacturers. This is good for consumers because it will keep the cost of devices down.

The sensing technology would have consulted a previously approved database that would monitor existing spectrum uses in each market. This was a major question coming in: whether device makers would have to include the technology and how often the devices would have to consult the database to avoid interference.

Larger users of wireless microphones like Broadway shows and event holders can apply for registration on the database, but there’s no guarantee that they will be included. The commission said there’s ample room in other parts of the spectrum besides the two reserved channels to accommodate wireless microphone use.

The question of who will administer the database has been kicked to the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, which will get the database up and running in the coming months and select an administrator. Google (s goog) is among the companies that haves applied for the job.

The commissioners were excited about the prospects of new innovation blooming as a result of the vote. Genachowski looked forward to entrepreneurs and innovators developing new technologies that can be exported around the world. Genachowski quoted one analyst who said white spaces use could generate $7 billion a year. Many commissioners also said the new rule making could lead to more efficient use of other spectrum.

Update: The National Association of Broadcasters said it’s reviewing the white spaces ruling. The association had previously sued the FCC over the white spaces rules, but put the suit on hold. It’s unclear if the lawsuit will move forward after today.

“NAB’s overriding goal in this proceeding has been to ensure America’s continued interference-free access to high quality news, entertainment and sports provided by free and local television stations. We look forward to reviewing the details of today’s ruling,” said NAB Executive VP of Communications Dennis Wharton in a statement.

Meanwhile, Public Knowledge applauded the FCC vote today, saying it would lead to new applications and products, and would extend the reach of broadband to underserved communities. Harold Feld, legal director for Public Knowledge, however, cautioned the FCC on placing any more limits on white spaces.

“We hope the FCC will give the technology the maximum flexibility to reach its potential and not burden the spectrum with requirements that would restrict its reach and usefulness,” he wrote in a statement.

Related GigaOM Pro Content (sub req’d):

Google’s Latest White Space Push: The Smart Grid

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Telcos Tap Wireless Opportunities In the Smart Grid

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user dominicpics.