Long distance WiFi rule could be just 10 days away

Imagine. Easily networked hotspots, with omnidirectional antennas that can find fiber, not just the pitiful excuse for broadband your phone or cable monopoly sells.

The FCC is due to meet on September 23, and on its agenda is a proposal on white spaces. (The picture is from the UK's Ofcom regulator, which is also exploring white space radios.)

This should matter to you. If, as expected, the FCC adopts a rule on white spaces, WiFi will have vast new territories to develop, frequencies where devices can use higher power, where signals can travel for miles and even go through walls.

Neeraj Srivaspaba, a vice president for marketing and business development at Spectrum Bridge Inc. in Lake Mary, FL, has been using white spaces under experimental license for nearly two years and says objections from broadcasters and cordless microphone makers have been solved.

Each project under the experimental license has a one-year shelf life, he noted.

White spaces are tough to define as unlicensed because the frequencies available differ from market-to-market. Big cities have more stations than others, and thus less frequency that can be safely used without interference.

The answer, Srivaspaba says, is a geolocation database.

"The idea is the radio uses GPS or cell towers – some form of geo-location," before it can start transmitting, he explained.

"It has to figure out its latitude and longitude. This is sent to the database," over an Internet connection, "and the database tells it the channels it can use. We've built this database covering the entire U.S.. Any latitude and longitude, we can tell the device what frequencies to use."

With the technical problems solved, there remain only political problems. Will owners of licensed frequencies try to stop this move to expand WiFi?

The experiments Spectrum Bridge has worked on may overcome those objections, too:

  • In Claudville, Virginia, Spectrum Bridge brought broadband to a town that never had it before.
  • For Plumas County, California, Spectrum Bridge built a smart grid, giving the local co-op access to sub-stations and consumers control of their electric meters.
  • In Wilmington, NC, Spectrum Bridge worked with the city to deliver traffic monitoring, security cameras, public WiFi hotspots, and water monitoring for rivers and estuaries.
  • For Hocking Valley Community Hospital in Logan, Ohio, Spectrum Bridge delivered WiFi to patients and their families.

In most of these cases, white space radios provided long distance services to WiFi radios. The radios themselves weren't fancy -- just converted AirSpan WiMax gear -- and no attempt was made to encode for maximum throughput.

That will be the work of a new IEEE committee dubbed 801.11AF802.11AF, Srivaspaba said. And once the FCC gives the go-ahead, both that committee and the equipment market can go into overdrive.

Imagine. Easily networked hotspots, with omnidirectional antennas that can find fiber, not just the pitiful excuse for broadband your phone or cable monopoly sells.

I'm psyched. Are you?

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