FCC authorizes a ‘super Wi-Fi’ plan

White- space networks will be ‘a powerful platform for innovation,’ says FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. White- space networks will be ‘a powerful platform for innovation,’ says FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.
Associated Press / September 24, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission will open up unused airwaves between television channels for wireless broadband networks that will use more powerful and farther-reaching signals than Wi-Fi hot spots employ.

The FCC voted unanimously yesterday to allow the use of so-called white spaces in the broadcast TV spectrum. The agency is hoping “super Wi-Fi’’ devices will start to appear within a year.

Chairman Julius Genachowski said white-space networks will be “a powerful platform for innovation,’’ driving billions in investment.

Leading technology companies, including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Dell Inc., are eager to develop the market. They say white spaces are ideal for broadband because the signals penetrate walls 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 the strain on the nation’s increasingly crowded airwaves.

Dell, for one, envisions white-space networks sending streaming video and other multimedia content to electronic devices around the home, delivering broadband to rural areas that currently lack high-speed Internet access, and creating “large-scale hot spots.’’

The FCC “is helping to unleash a whole new class of mobile wireless broadband services with applications that are nearly limitless,’’ said Dell’s chief executive, Michael Dell.

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

Yesterday’s vote mandates a database with a map of TV channels as well as of big wireless microphone users, such as Broadway theaters and sports leagues. White-space 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.

David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television, said it will work with the FCC to develop ways to safeguard TV signals.