Free and open white space promises Wi-Fi revolution

Photo of a Wi-fi signal.

Soon Wi-fi could be easily accessed anywhere. CC by Dana Spiegel/Flickr

The television broadcast spectrum contains unlicensed areas that are going unused. Those areas are called “white space.” For the purpose of advancing wireless network technology, the Federal Communications Commission plans to make white space available for public wireless consumption. White space for wireless is being called “white-fi” and “Wi-Fi on steroids.” Dead zones could be a thing of the past with the advent of powerful wireless networks enabled by white space. Advanced devices and applications heretofore unimagined are believed to be possible with the advent of Wi-Fi on steroids. When the white space spectrum is released, small startup companies could reap billions developing technology that utilizes free and unlicensed frequencies.

White space excites innovators

The FCC is expected to announce that white space will be made publicly available for use in wireless networks on Sept. 23. The New York Times reports that Wi-Fi on steroids will be enabled by the unused bands of the TV spectrum freed up by the conversion from analog to digital. Digital broadcasts take up less space on the TV spectrum than analog, leaving more white space to go around. The potential of Wi-Fi is greatly enhanced by white space because by using the lower-frequency waves of the TV spectrum, networks will cover broader areas, pass through walls and buildings better and rarely drop connections . Allowing use of white space with no license fees could launch another wave of innovation similar to 1985, when the release of unlicensed spectrum resulted in things taken for granted today such as baby monitors and keyless entries.

White space network concerns

Not everyone is thrilled about the prospect of Wi-Fi on steroids. PC World reports that broadcast television networks and businesses using wireless microphones, such as theaters and sports arenas, have opposed the liberation of white space. They anticipate a disruption of their signal from Wi-Fi networks with extended range. However the FCC has planned ahead by documenting the broadcast channels and wireless microphone use on the TV spectrum. Devices would need to be configured to avoid the frequencies in use in a given area.

White space networks in use

Some entities already have the white space spectrum in play. An article in The Register describes Wi-Fi on steroids in use in Redmond, Wash., at the Microsoft campus. Microsoft’s “white-fi” network is providing connectivity to shuttle buses and buildings spanning its 500-acre campus from only two hot-spots. The Times white space report highlights super Wi-Fi in New Hanover County, N.C.. Remote cameras connected through white space keep an eye on traffic patterns for the transportation department. The parks department monitors wetland areas and transmits environmental data required by federal regulators – saving the cost of sending employees to remote locations . Other breakthroughs to expect in the future could be remote medical networks, more efficient power distribution and new industries valued in the billions.


New York Times

PC World

The Register

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