Super Wi-Fi: Coming Soon to Airwaves Near You

By Andrew Moseman | September 23, 2010 7:21 pm

wifiThere may never have been this many people this excited about white space.

Today the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission agreed to the rules that will allow unlicensed use of the empty space between TV channels (available now that TV has gone totally digital), and opens the door to super wi-fi networks whose reach could be measured in miles.

Unlike current Wi-Fi airwaves, whose reach can be measured in feet, the spectrum that would carry Super Wi-Fi would be able to travel for several miles because of that lower frequency. Through brick walls, even—something your Linksys really struggles with. [Gizmodo]

The white space issue lingered in legal limbo for years. Opponents’ primary objection was that using these space would interfere with TV signals, and so the FCC’s prior rules, from 2008, required pricey “spectrum sensing.”

The new order eliminates a requirement that devices scan the airwaves for available signals. Rather, they can rely on a database of digital signals, updated daily, for use in locating an available channel on which to transmit. [The New York Times]

One reason super wi-fi has the potential to reach so far is the low frequency. Gizmodo says that most current wi-fi exists in a range between 2.4 and 5 gigahertz. The FCC’s order, however, will open regions between 50 and 700 megahertz.

Computer maker Dell, for one, envisions white spaces networks that will be able to send streaming video and other multimedia content to electronic devices around the home, deliver broadband to rural areas that currently lack high-speed Internet access and create “large-scale hot spots.” [AP]

Google and Microsoft are right there, too, foaming at the mouth to make use of the new space, and trying to convince the government that it means an American-led technology revolution.

Firms like Google, Microsoft, Dell, and Motorola have all been big backers of white spaces technology and have been developing it in their labs for years—everything from the hardware to the protocols to the firmware to the antennas. Without numerous other countries, including the UK and Brazil, now considering some version of the same technology for their own markets, US companies may have a significant R&D edge when it comes to white space gear. [Ars Technica]

Related Content:
80beats: Spying Made Simple: Wi-Fi Signals Used to See Through Walls
80beats: Opinions: What Google and Verizon’s Plan for Net Neutrality Means
DISCOVER: IBM May Have the Key to Wireless Hi-Def Video
DISCOVER: How Much Does the Internet Weigh?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology
  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    Maybe I’m mistaken, but I could have sworn there was some issue with white space since it couldn’t be depended upon to be open in all areas . . . wish I could remember the specifics.

  • ChH

    Is that even going to count as “high speed” internet?
    Lower carrier frequencies mean lower bandwidth, which means less bits per second.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Andrew Moseman

    @Rhacodactylus There is the problem of congestion—some people quoted in stories wonder whether it will work, say, here in New York, where there’s an overabundance of TV stations and smaller gaps in between.

  • Ali Onder

    700 mhz is much more than enough to carry the so called “high speed internet” of todays standards

  • TerryS.

    Wait a moment! Discover magazine quoting Gizmodo about radio wave propagation. Such as “Super Wi-Fi would be able to travel for several miles because of that lower frequency.”

    Whoa! Is this new physics? An alternate universe? Have we taken transmitter power totally out of the equation?

    I’m disappointed Dicover.

  • Brian Too

    One thing that has mitigated the widespread use of insecure WiFi nets is their short range. If this is marketed as a consumer grade technology then there could be security repercussions. Who needs to war drive when the radiated signal has an effective range of several miles?

    Of course this problem can be fixed up if the WAP vendors make their configuration systems both mandatory and easy to use. Nor is the current security dynamic really acceptable either. WEP needs to be deprecated (badly).

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    @Terry: You’re right of course that transmitter power is an important part of this. As far as I know, the FCC hasn’t yet made public the power restrictions of Super Wifi, so it’s hard to weigh how heavily that factors in.

    But note that received signal power does vary with frequency: lower-frequency signals should be received with higher power because of the lower free-space path loss, which is proportional to the square of the frequency. So a 5GHz WiFi signal suffers 10K times more path loss than a 50MHz Super WiFi signal. I’m not sure off the top of my head what that means for the bit rate of the signal, but the miles instead of meters idea does come from the FCC; presumably they’ve done the math to back that up.

  • Wanda Ballentine

    I suggest that everyone read the latest Bio-Initiative Report on the health threats of electromagnetic frequencies written by 14 international scientists who regularly review the research and literature. http://www.bioinitiative.org/ there is a $2.00 charge to download the report. The Summary is now 18 pages long as compared to the previous seven.

    [This comment was truncated for being quoted info from another source.]

  • http://www.pondforfish.com Koi Pond

    I wish we had that in the United States

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