Google's Page: White spaces test was unfair

Google's Larry Page calls on the U.S. FCC to approve white spaces devices.

Google cofounder Larry Page blasted as unfair recent interference tests of prototype devices that would deliver wireless broadband on unused television spectrum in the U.S.

The tests, conducted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, measured interference with the wrong signals, Page said Wednesday.

The tests attempted to measure interference with wireless microphones during a professional football game in Maryland, but those microphones were operating on spectrum also occupied by much stronger TV signals, said Page, speaking at a Washington, D.C., rally to promote the use of so-called white spaces spectrum.

The protocol devices would be designed to operate in the white spaces, spectrum designated for television stations but unused. It would be "impossible" for the white spaces prototype to detect the weak signal that a wireless microphone puts out when a much more powerful TV station is using the same spectrum, Page said.

"There's no way to do that," he said. "You're going to detect the television station, not the wireless microphone. What I'm telling you is, the test was rigged."

Asked if he thought the FCC rigged the test, Page said he did not. He didn't elaborate on who rigged the test, but one possible implication is that the wireless microphone maker did. The National Association of Broadcasters and wireless microphone makers have opposed new white-spaces devices, saying there's a significant possibility of interference with their signals.

Some mobile phone carriers have also opposed opening up white spaces spectrum to new broadband devices. That spectrum could compete with mobile service on spectrum that carriers paid billions of dollars for. The arguments over the white spaces have grown increasingly heated in recent months.

Page called for the FCC to approve the use of the white spaces for broadband devices before November's presidential and congressional elections. And he suggested that the FCC was putting white spaces devices through a more rigorous testing process than it has with other devices. Generally, the FCC allows new unlicensed devices to be built and to operate in areas designated for unlicensed devices as long as they don't interfere with other devices, Page said.

"There's nobody in the world who can truthfully tell you there's no way to produce a device that doesn't interfere," Page said. "That's just garbage -- not true."

An FCC spokesman didn't immediately return a message asking for comment on Page's statement.

But Shure, a maker of wireless microphones, disputed Page's description of the FCC's August test in Landover, Maryland.

"The FCC's wireless microphone field tests were carefully planned and thoroughly executed based on sound engineering science and real-world operating scenarios," said Mark Brunner, Shure's senior director for public and industry relations. "These tests were open to the public, and those who choose to discount the results -- which have not yet been published -- had every option to be present and to witness them for themselves."

As Page spoke at the Wireless Innovation Alliance's event in a U.S. Senate office building, two members of the House of Representatives issued a statement calling for the FCC to protect wireless microphone signals.

The FCC tests so far have not proven that white-spaces broadband devices can work, said the statement from Representative Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, and Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat. In a handful of recent FCC tests, white-spaces prototype devices have failed, but generally because the devices stopped working, not because the devices interfered with TV stations or wireless microphones.

"This is an issue that can only be resolved through science and, frankly, the tests performed by the FCC in its own labs and in the field have not proved that these white space devices can reliably detect the presence of a wireless microphone or a TV signal," the two lawmakers said in their joint statement. "We can all agree that FCC policy should foster innovation and encourage the efficient use of public airwaves, but new changes must not come at the expense of wireless microphones, which provide an important public good."

In addition to Page, representatives of Microsoft, Motorola, Dell and other companies spoke at the white spaces event. Allowing broadband devices on the white spaces spectrum would spark hundreds of millions of dollars in new technology investment and may present the last chance the U.S. has for creating a new national broadband network that competes with cable and telecom companies, participants said.

Representative Jay Inslee, a Washington state Democrat, said opponents of white spaces are interested in protecting their turf. "If you are for innovation, you are for the white spaces," he said.

The technology exists to use white spaces devices without interfering with other signals, added Mark McHenry, CEO of Shared Spectrum, a company that sells spectrum-sensing radio technology to the U.S. military. Shared Spectrum's radio equipment allows the U.S. military to set up wireless networks in other countries without interfering with local television, he said.

The company is "convinced" that white spaces devices can work without interfering in the U.S., he said.

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Grant Gross

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