Caught In The White Space

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The AV/IT ecosystem may be facing its first real threat. On November 4, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules that allow new, unlicensed

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wireless devices to operate in the television spectrum. Sounds great, except for one big problem. For nearly 30 years, many wireless devices in common use for AV applications have already been operating in these same "white spaces" in the TV spectrum. The risk of interference (which is already a major issue in some areas) would become significantly greater unless current AV devices are modified - at the manufacturer's expense.

How is the AV/IT ecosystem caught in the middle? Obviously this could be great news for WLAN device manufacturers, as well as the countless wireless communication products upon which many of us are becoming dependant, both in the home and at work. But it could be bad news for the many wireless communication systems used in audio-video applications in the home and in churches, corporations, universities, sports venues, entertainment facilities, broadcast centers, and more.

In nature, such conflicts tend to have a way of working themselves out - "survival of the fittest" usually rules the day. But, in this case, homeostasis is at peril because one side has a very big brother watching over it. Free market economics tend to break down when the government gets too involved.

Supporters of the FCC's ruling claim that it will develop a market for faster, widerreaching wireless networks for homes and offices. The potential demand that this would create for a new generation of wireless devices and services has made the issue the focus of intense lobbying by a number of big technology companies, including Google, Microsoft, Motorola, and Dell.

However, broadcasters, professional and consumer electronics firms, and other organizations have opposed the plan, claiming that it would cause interference with TV, wireless microphones, and other devices, and amount to an unwarranted subsidy for the technology industry. To be fair, we should recognize that the FCC's plan does include steps that would require new devices to include technology that would detect both occupied and available frequencies, but, as you might guess, there is considerable skepticism on the part of many incumbent wireless device manufacturers on whether the proposed protections could actually work.

Regardless of how this ultimately plays out, it's clear that the AV/IT ecosystem will be tested. Wireless applications in the AV space are just beginning to take off. We're beginning to see viable technologies for wireless signal transmission for digital signage and HD video content. But if you are a technology manager responsible for both your organization's WLAN devices and the wireless AV controller in the CEO's boardroom, you may find yourself caught in the middle. No one wants to have to choose between campus-wide WiFi and the wireless microphones in the theater or football stadium.

You thought the "BlackBerry versus wireless microphone" contest was annoying? It's possible that we ain't seen nothing yet!

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