Despite Dolly Parton's best efforts, the FCC voted unanimously yesterday to open up the unlicensed white spaces spectrum to companies hoping to build wireless devices that can make use of the spectrum, which currently sits unused between TV channels. (A PDF version of the official press release is here.) Because that spectrum can travel through walls and over long distances, it could pave the way for a new generation of wireless networking gear that could combine Wi-Fi and WiMAX.
While tech giants like Microsoft and Google pushed for the FCC's decision against broadcasters, the theater industry (which feared that its wireless microphones would be affected), and even the queen of country music. Nonetheless, it's Dell that is jumping out front to support white spaces potential, saying that it would add white-spaces radios into future Dell laptops, though it hasn't specified a date when that will happen. According to GigaOm, Fujitsu and Intel are working on chips that would combine Wi-Fi and WiMAX radios with the idea that a device could use Wi-Fi locally and latch onto a long-distance broadband signal when away from a Wi-Fi network.
Of course, Google and Microsoft are most interested in the spectrum for cell/smart phones, as the U.S. trails most of its economic competitors in the speed of its mobile networks. Importantly, white spaces remain unlicensed, which allows any network provider the ability to make use of them. As the ability of companies like Verizon to battle with cable companies with its fiber-optic technology has shown, we need more good old-fashioned American competition when it comes to our broadband options.