FCC White Spaces Ruling Enables Super Wi-Fi

Wayne Rash

The Federal Communications Commission voted to open vacant areas of radio spectrum between television channels to commercial use, including new data technologies that the FCC refers to as 'Super Wi-Fi.' The previously vacant frequencies, known as White Spaces, will also be open to other technologies for unlicensed use.

These new frequencies have been under discussion since the FCC began moving analog television stations to new digital frequencies. According to the FCC, this newly available radio spectrum should encourage new industries, create jobs and fuel innovation. The FCC also suggested in its action that the new radio frequencies would play an important role in the National Broadband Plan, especially in regard to bringing access to rural areas.

This most recent action by the FCC resolved a number of technical issues, including potential interference with television stations and wireless microphones that are used in concert halls and auditoriums, by requiring such devices to be registered in a public database so that users of the unlicensed spectrum would be aware of potential interference.

Advocates for the White Space ruling have long promoted this as a nearly magical means of getting broadband more widely deployed. While it no doubt has the potential for spreading wireless data communications much in the way that WiMax or LTE does, it's not yet clear how this will offer better communications when compared with those competing technologies.

Currently the available frequencies are widely scattered in the radio spectrum because they're located in the empty space between existing television channels. Adding to the complexity, white space devices won't be allowed to interfere with television broadcasts or other licensed uses. The result could be that such devices are either limited by their geography to only a few very limited radio frequencies, or would be relatively expensive because of the need to cover a wide area of the radio spectrum.

So this could be good news for the broad deployment of broadband. It might even be the best answer to the FCC's national broadband vision. But more likely it'll be very useful for a few specific vertical users, and everyone else will use other solutions. Perhaps it's too early to say that, though. The FCC is giving potential users great latitude in what they do with this spectrum, and that's a real benefit. So there are a lot of possibilities, it's just not clear which of those possibilities are actually viable, and which will be overcome by other technologies before they have a chance to see the light of day.

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