Creating Super Wi-Fi: White Space Trials Begin

by Matt Klassen on June 28, 2011

With it becoming abundantly clear that the so-called “4G” next generation networks won’t satisfy our insatiable need for data, the technology world is quickly seeking out other alternatives, ways of creating a faster Internet. But the problem has always been one of spectrum, not of speed, as carriers are currently milking the available finite amount of spectrum for all its worth, meaning that companies need to either make more efficient use of the spectrum they have or find heretofore unused portions of the spectrum to exploit.

Of course most carriers have already tried the former option, with the culmination of their efforts creating the underwhelming “4G” LTE, WiMax, and HSPA+ networks, but the problem with the latter option is, of course, where to find unused spectrum?

It was almost a year ago when I wrote about the FCC laying down the initial ground rules for companies looking to utilize the unused spectrum from digital TV signals, called white space. Now, according to the Financial Times, a tech consortium in Britain is finally looking to start trials on this white space, with many hoping it will deliver a faster, more powerful Wi-Fi able to handle our growing data demands.

So what is white space? In between each licensed portion of wireless frequency used by each television set you have is a buffer zone, a completely unused part of wireless broadband that is meant to prevent interference or overlap from different broadcasting stations.

The technology and telecommunications worlds are hoping to tap this unused portion of the frequency to provide users with a super Wi-Fi experience, a more powerful, faster, and more reliable Wi-Fi that makes our current Wi-Fi look like it’s from the stone ages. Signals utilizing the white space spectrum travel approximately three times farther than signals transmitted over the regular Wi-Fi spectrum, meaning that a white space Wi-Fi system could cover nine times as much as a standard Wi-Fi.

Further, because white space operates at a significantly lower frequency (300MHz to 400MHz) it can more efficiently penetrate walls, offering a better Internet experience to homes and businesses. As Dan Reed, an executive of Microsoft’s technology strategy, explains, “The TV white spaces offer tremendous potential to extend the benefits of wireless connectivity to many more people, in more locations, through the creation of super Wi-Fi networks.”

But even if the consortium, led by Microsoft, is successful in its initial trials, slated to begin this week, there are several barriers that stand in the way of creating a super Wi-Fi network, the most important barrier being the fact that white space is geographically specific. This means, unfortunately, that white space will likely never be formed into a national wireless network, but instead be utilized to serve particular cities and towns, certainly good news for rural locations where Wi-Fi service is unreliable or nonexistent.

That said, don’t expect to see new super Wi-Fi networks setup any time soon, as following this lengthy trial period will come the equally lengthy cutthroat auction period, where this once friendly consortium looking to advance mobile telecommunications turns into a ravenous pack of dogs snatching up one of the world’s most valuable finite resources, spectrum.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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