Tales of the Sausage Factory

White Spaces Update — Field Testing Can Be Soooo Educational. You Always Find Something You Don’t Expect.

As folks may recall, the primary opponents of opening the broadcast white spaces for use, the broadcasters and the wireless microphone manufacturers — notably our good friend and radio pirate Shure, Inc. (official slogan:“We get to break the law ’cause we sound so good”) — insisted that the FCC conduct field tests on the white spaces prototypes. Of course, because these are concept prototypes and not functioning devices certified to some actual standard, everyone knew this would leave lots of leeway for the broadcasters and the wireless microphone folks to declare the “tests” a “failure” regardless of the actual results. Which, of course, they did. Needless to say, Phillips (which makes one of the prototypes) said the opposite, and it all depends on whether you mean “the device functioned perfectly as if there were actually some standards for building a functioning device” or “the device proved it could detect occupied channels at whatever sensitivity the FCC decides is necessary.” The FCC engineers, wisely, made no comment and went back to their labs to analyze the actual data.

But one of the nice things about field testing is that you learn the most amazing things that you can never learn in a lab, as demonstrated by this ex parte filed by Ed Thomas for the White Spaces Coalition, the industry group that backs opening the white spaces. Apparently, in front of eye witnesses (including the FCC’s engineers), both broadcasters and unauthorized wireless microphone users in the Broadway field test operated wireless microphones on active television channels, at power levels well above what white spaces advocates propose for mobile devices. All apparently without interfering with anybody’s television reception or even — in the case of the unauthorized Broadway users — screwing up the hundreds of other illegal wireless microphones in the neighboring theaters.

A few rather important take aways here: (1) the danger of interference claims by broadcasters and Shure are utterly bogus, as the wireless microphones do not screw up either television reception or each other; (b) the broadcasters and Shure know their interference claims are bogus. If they actually cared on iota about possible interference, they would not casually operate high power wireless microphones on the same channel as active television broadcasts and as each other. Instead, they are so unconcerned about interference that they can’t even remember to pretend to care about basic interference concerns when they are conducting a field test in front of the FCC’s own engineers.

A bit more elaboration on these points below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Brief update on White Spaces

For those following the current White Spaces follies (or, “how Microsoft crashed an entire proceeding by treating spectrum as if it were software”) the FCC announced it will do further testing on white spaces prototypes.

That’s a modest victory for pro-white spaces forces, as the NAB had tried to leverage the failure of the (broken) Microsoft device to force the FCC to shut down the proceeding (or, more realistically, go with stationary devices and say no to mobile devices, with sufficient restrictions on power level and use of adjacent channels to make the white spaces virtually useless). At the same time, however, it ups the stakes pretty severely. Another “blue screen of static” and the NAB will probably get its way.

My sense is that a majority of Commissioners would like to see this happen, if they are convinced the engineering works. That doesn’t just mean a proof of concept. That means a demonstration that the technology today works sufficiently well that the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology can say with confidence “if devices follow these rules, they will not interfere with people trying to watch free over-the-air TV.” We know the theory works, but is the technology ready for prime time?

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Quick Take on FCC 3650-3700

The FCC decided the 3650-3700 Order today. You can find a link on the FCC Home page.

As is customary, the Order is not yet released, so we have only the press release to go on.

My first take is below. I know a lot of people are going to be upset that it requires licensing, but it is not a “licensed” regime anymore than a truly “unlicensed” regime. We need to keep an open mind and wait for the actual order to come out.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: UPDATE on 3650-3700 MHz

I have been making calls today. The situation is moving in a more favorable direction. The relevant decision makers are getting our emails and see broad popular support for mesh as well as high-power.

Key issues on which decisions have not yet been made and where comments may prove helpful:

1) Allowing low power mobile devices in the band is critical to expanding mesh.

2) Low power mesh requires non-exclusivity and cheap equipment. The Commission should not impose overly conservative interference protection criteria that drive up price. Flexibility has been critical to the success of unlicensed as a networking solution.

3) Mesh devices must be allowed to communicate with each other in a peer-to-peer fashion, rather than requiring mesh devices to communicate with a high power base station.

4) Any system of licensing or registration must be non-exclusive; the Commission must not create a “first in time, first in right” licensing systems.

Remember, things are turning our way, but your comments are still needed to build a record to counter Intel and others. The Proceeding Number is 04-151. You can file comments by going here.

Stay tuned . . .

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Inventing the Future

Inventing the Future: digital convergence happens

Croquet is “about” real-time collaboration. A bunch of people can be in the same virtual environment and see the live effects of each other moving around and manipulating things. It seems natural to add audio chat using existing Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. So now you can talk to folks in the same space while you work together. We’re working on Webcam video, too, so that it’s generally suitable for holding distance meetings in a Croquet place. I didn’t think much about displacing land-line telephones. Who cares.

We thought a bit about how you could connect the telephone system so that you could call in to a Croquet place and join a meeting (audio only?) from a cell phone.

But then I read this quote from Patrick Scaglia, Vice-President and Director of the Internet and Computing Platforms Research Center at HP Lab:

“Croquet is a first in many ways. It represents a major step in our vision of computation as a communications platform and service, available anytime, anywhere, from any device. Soon, Croquet will run on everything, from a PDA through a set-top box; persistent Croquet worlds will be ubiquitous on the Internet, routed intelligently to each user through computational services overlays like PlanetLab. This will change the way people think about software and computation, from today’s device-oriented perspective to a perspective of computation as a persistent, pervasive, service”.

It took a day to sink in.

Eventually, people will want and get always-on connectivity for mobile devices, just as over half of American Internet users now get for fixed-position access. After demand evens out, I think device costs are first-order proportional to the number of chips, with the complexity of chips being a second-order effect. So the cost of a PDA capable of running Croquet will someday not be inherently much more expensive then a cell phone such as is now being given away by providers.

So, will we have telephones? Of any kind?

As far as I know, the Croquet developers didn’t set out to replace the telephone. If I had, my wife would have threatened divorce for such a hair-brained idea. And I’m not predicting that Croquet will displace the telephone. But it is interesting that progress in solving an abstract and general problem
mightlead to the merging of computers and telephones.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Just been a bit busy . . .

Haven’t had much time to post here. If interested, you can read my comments to the FCC on why they should give more spectrum to unlicensed access without being a major doofus about it. Or you can read my brief summary (with a few side notes) below.

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