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In cognitive wireless networks where secondary users (SUs) opportunistically access spectral white spaces of primary users (PUs), there exists an inherent tradeoff between sensing and transmission due to the competing goals of PU protection and SU access maximization. This paper studies means of sensing-transmission for SUs to better manage the competing goals by defining utility function to reward the SU for successful packet transmissions and to penalize it for colliding with PU. To maximize the SU utility, we present a threshold-based sensing-transmission structure that is optimal under a technical constraint. Both perfect sensing and imperfect sensing are considered, with or without SU acknowledgement of reception. This SU access scheme optimizes SU access efficiency while protecting PU performance. It sets a benchmark and provides insight for the design of sensing-transmission control in cognitive networks such as IEEE 802.22.