What Is “Super Wi-Fi”?

By Brian Barrett, Sep 23, 2010 05:22 PM
A photograph of a metro Wi-Fi antenna in Minne...
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What Is "Super Wi-Fi"?

The FCC just cleared a path for a new generation of “Super Wi-Fi” technologies. Sounds great! But what the heck is Super Wi-Fi?

Super Wi-Fi is still Wi-Fi…

It’s not as though Super Wi-Fi is some entirely alien concept. For all intents and purposes, it’s Wi-Fi! The same kind of wireless data transmission you use around your apartment or at the office or waiting in line at Starbucks. It’s just much, much more powerful.

…but on a new spectrum…

As John explained previously, pretty much all Wi-Fi activity takes place on the same 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequencies. For the first time in 25 years, though, the FCC has opened up a sizable new block of unlicensed spectrum, this time between 50MHz and 700MHz.

…that lives in between your TV channels…

Ever since television went entirely digital, folks like Google have been lobbying, literally, to free up the airwaves between channels. The so-called “white spaces” would otherwise have been lying around unused or been subject to prohibitive regulatory precautions.

…that’s much more powerful than what we have today…

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. You can also anticipate download speeds of 15Mbps to 20Mbps—about as fast as a cable modem.

…that shouldn’t interfere with your regularly scheduled programming…

Back in 2008, when the white space plan was first approved, the biggest concern was that using these airwaves for data transmission could interfere with TV signals. To mitigate those fears, white space devices will be required to query a special geolocation database, ensuring no signals are crossed.

…and that will have (literally) far-reaching benefits…

The advantages are already apparent. Google, for instance, already has a trial running in a Logan, Ohio hospital that’s giving first responders and the hospital grounds alike super-speedy broadband. Wilmington, NC uses white-space to send real-time feeds from traffic and security cameras. And eventually, you would potentially be able to access your home Wi-Fi from several blocks away.

…though maybe not for a while.

So far, most of what we know about how the white space will be used is based on conjecture. There may be some proof-of-concept devices early next year at CES, and there may be more mass production of products in a year or two. But the first Super Wi-Fi projects are likely to be medical, municipal, large-scale. How long it takes for us to be always connected from anywhere and anything? That’s up to the inventors and entrepreneurs to decide. [FCC (pdf)]

Illustration by Sam Spratt (reference from The Incredibles). Check out Sam’s portfolio and become a fan of his Facebook Artist’s Page.

Gizmodo, the Gadget Guide.

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WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission is opening up unused airwaves between television channels for wireless broadband networks that will be more powerful and can reach farther than today’s Wi-Fi hotspots.

The five-member FCC voted unanimously Thursday to allow the use of so-called “white spaces” in the broadcast TV spectrum to deliver broadband connections that can function like Wi-Fi networks on steroids. The agency is calling the new technology “super Wi-Fi” and hopes to see devices with the technology start to appear within a year.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said white spaces networks will serve as “a powerful platform for innovation,” driving billions in industry investment.

Leading technology companies, including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Dell Inc., are eager to develop the market. They say television white spaces are ideally suited for broadband because they are able to penetrate walls, have plenty of capacity and can travel several miles.

Just like the spectrum used by Wi-Fi, white spaces will be available to all users for free, with no license required. The FCC hopes they will help ease strain on the nation’s increasingly crowded airwaves as more consumers go online using laptops and data-hungry smart phones.

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.”

“By opening this broadcast spectrum for Internet use, the commission is helping to unleash a whole new class of mobile wireless broadband services with applications that are nearly limitless,” Dell Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Dell said in a statement.

Although the FCC first voted to allow the use of white spaces for broadband nearly two years ago, the plan ran into serious opposition from television broadcasters worried about interference with their over-the-air signals. Wireless microphone manufacturers and users – including churches, theatres, karaoke bars and all types of performers – raised similar concerns.

Thursday’s vote mandates the creation of a database with a map of TV channels across the country as well as big wireless microphone users, such as Broadway theaters and sports leagues. White spaces networks and devices would be required to determine their own location and then consult the database to find vacant frequencies to use. The FCC is also setting aside at least two channels for minor users of wireless microphones.

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