A new era in high-speed wireless dawned Thursday as the Federal Communications Commission approved rules for using "white spaces." Those are additional spectrums between TV-station transmissions, left over from the digital-to-analog transition made by TV stations, each of which now requires less bandwidth.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the 5-0 vote opens "a new platform for American innovation." The low-frequency white spaces, like TV signals, can travel farther and have better penetration of walls than normal cellular signals at speeds as high as 20 megabits per second.
'Wi-Fi on Steroids'
Some observers have described transmission over white spaces as "Wi-Fi on steroids," and the FCC has described it as "super Wi-Fi." In fact, there is speculation that the move could mean the end of Wi-Fi hot spots if coverage becomes widespread.
Transmission over the white spaces will not need a FCC license, as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth do not, which could speed the development of new applications and devices. This is the first move to allow unlicensed spectrum in the U.S. in a quarter century.
Studies have indicated that transmission over white spaces could result in more than $7 billion in new business annually, and a variety of major companies -- including Microsoft, Motorola, Sprint Nextel, and others -- are ready to begin using them. The additional bandwidth could also dramatically improve high-speed wireless coverage in rural areas and spur the development of new industries, including traffic sensors, remote monitoring of homes and appliances, telemedicine and more.
Genachowski has told news media that he expects the first deployments will most likely be broadband wireless networks covering university or corporate campuses.
Although TV stations completed the transition to digital in June 2009, there has been heavy push-back from some industries because of possible interference. The FCC actually voted to allow transmission over white spaces almost two years ago, but the vote on Thursday implements new rules to minimize possible interference.
Trials in the Field
For instance, TV stations, theaters, karaoke bars, and wireless-microphone companies have expressed concern that transmissions over white spaces could interfere with their signals. Among other things, mobile wireless devices will need to avoid specific frequencies for given locations, and some areas that are heavy wireless-microphone users, such as New York City's theater district, will be off limits.
A test site in Wilmington, N.C., has successfully used white-spaces transmissions for EPA monitoring of wetland areas surrounding the city, which couldn't be as easily done with other technologies. Officials have said a full implementation will save the city $100,000 because of the need for fewer towers to cover the area.
In Logan, Ohio, Spectrum Bridge and Google have demonstrated Wi-Fi and WiMAX applications over white spaces for communications in a hospital, as well as for emergency vehicles, and a trial in rural Claudville, Va., has demonstrated broadband Internet access.