September 13, 2010

FCC Talks Could Lead To New ‘Super Wi-Fi’ Networks

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will meet on September 23 to iron out the final details of a new plan which would allow unused broadcast TV airwave bands for new, long-range Wi-Fi networks that could eliminate the need to find hotspots.

"Super Wi-Fi," as FCC officials are reportedly calling it, will have "longer range and wall-piercing power," according to a Monday morning report from AP Technology Writer Joelle Tessler. It would be "like Wi-Fi on steroids," she added, and it could become a reality if officials from the regulatory agency are able to resolve issues such as possible interference with television signals and wireless microphones during the upcoming spectrum meeting.

According to Tessler, the unused bands--or "white spaces," as they are known--will be similar to existing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology in that they would not require the agency's permission to use and would be available at no cost.

The spectrum in question was freed up as a result of last year's switch-over to digital TV broadcasting. However, television broadcasters, wireless microphone manufacturers, and groups such as churches and karaoke bars that use the device have expressed concerns that their signals will be interfered with as a result of the new wireless networks.

"To address these issues, the FCC has been working with broadcasters and white-spaces proponents to map TV channels across the country," Tessler reports. "The current FCC plan would require installers to configure white-spaces devices to use a frequency that's vacant in their area."

"Alternatively, the devices themselves could figure out their location using such technologies as GPS; a database would then help the devices figure out the right frequencies for their area," she added. "In addition, the agency hopes to set aside at least two channels for minor users of wireless microphones. And it plans to put big wireless microphone users, such as Broadway theaters and sports leagues, in the database, so devices would know to avoid their airwaves."

According to New York Times reporter Edward Wyatt, "The stronger, faster networks"--made possible because low-frequency television waves tend to travel further--"will extend broadband signals to bypassed rural areas and allow for smart electric grids, remote health monitoring and, for consumers, wireless Internet without those annoying dead zones."

"For now, it remains unclear whether the FCC's plan for dealing with interference will go far enough for the broadcast industry, which wants the FCC to require that white-spaces devices include spectrum-sensing technology that can detect when airwaves are already being used," Tessler added.

If all the issues are successfully resolved, however, she notes that the enhanced Wi-Fi "could show up in wireless gadgets a year from now."


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