What is "Super Wi-Fi?"

What is "Super Wi-Fi?"

Summary: The Washington Post is reporting that the US Federal Communications Commission wants to "create super WiFi networks." So what are they talking about anyway?


According to The Washington Post, the US Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski "wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month." Oh yes, and this will be "free."

Later this decade we may get "super Wi-Fi," but it won't be free and its speeds will be in the 4G range.

This new Wi-Fi "would be much more powerful than existing WiFi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas."

In a statement, Genachow­ski said “Freeing up unlicensed spectrum is a vibrantly free-market approach that offers low barriers to entry to innovators developing the technologies of the future and benefits consumers."

That sounds like the best thing ever doesn't it? It only leaves me with one little question: "What the heck is super Wi-Fi anyway!?"

OK, so I'll tell you. First, it's not as new as it might sound. According to sources at the FCC, " This is not a new idea or proposal – it’s about the availability and use of white space for unlicensed devices in the TV bands as part of the FCC’s incentive auction process. The promise of the 600 MHz band, post incentive auction, is that the guard bands would mean that spectrum for unlicensed use would be available nationwide – in all markets, including places where there is little or no white spaces today."

Guard bands would be 6MHz chucks of white space spectrum between licensed users such as TV channels. This spectrum is currently occupied by Ultra High Frequency (UHF) channels 31 to 51. These guard bands could then be used for wireless networks.

On the record, Neil Grace, an FCC spokesperson, said, "The FCC’s incentive auction proposal, launched in September of last year, would unleash substantial spectrum for licensed uses like 4G LTE. It would also free up unlicensed spectrum for uses including, but not limited to, next generation Wi-Fi. As the demand for mobile broadband continues to grow rapidly, we need to free up significant amounts of spectrum for commercial use, and both licensed and unlicensed spectrum must be part of the solution.” These auctions, if passed by the full FCC, would begin in 2014.

So, what could we expect from this new 600MHz spectrum? That's a good question. For range, the 600 MHz "Access points" would have a range of approximately a dozen miles. For bandwidth, we should be looking at 20Mbps down and 6Mbps up. But, real-world results are going to vary on exactly how we end up apportioning and utilizing the bandwidth.

If we really end up getting "super Wi-Fi" it may not be super in terms of speed, but in as far as range goes it will indeed be "super."

That said, the earliest we'll see it is late 2014 and, whatever else it will be, it won't be free. Building out the Internet infrastructure to support 600 MHz Wi-Fi will taken hundreds of mllions, if not billions, of dollars and users will end up paying for it just the same way they do today for conventional Internet access and 3G and 4G wireless networking.  

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Topics: Wi-Fi, 4G, Government US, Networking

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  • Want to be positive

    Free internet? Free cellphone calls? I want to believe this. I really do. But what are the odds that Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon Wireless will band together to defeat this idea? Like they don't have lobbyists.
    Lani Desta
    • of course this cant work

      It costs a lot of money to run a network. Hiding the costs on some government balance sheet does not make something free.
      • Free because it's a game canger

        Yes, yes, nothing in life is free, everyone gets this. But the investment in a game-changer like this will inevitably bring about innovation and technical jobs that will surge the economy, more than paying for itself.
        Tobias Cichon
    • You're right.

      Free? The cable and cellular companies will make certain this never happens unless it makes them a lot of money somehow. Our government is never allowed to do something which benefits the people. Special interests always buy government employees off with contributions to blind trusts held in offshore accounts.
      • Reminder to pay bill that supports monopoly in America

        And why not the American public is so stupid that any description of how stupid falls short of the reality. As always if you do not act proactively you will be sold as the the slave of whoeverhasthemoney. Give up now? WAHAHA! After all its YOUR dime that supports the pay off by political action committee for slavery for Americans. Well it was you dime until you paid the bill.
      • The best way to make the cell carriers cheaper

        If for the government to sell them copious amounts of bandwidth. The reason rates have been going up as of late and we have unlimited data restrictions, is because the government is stonewalling the actioning of new bandwith, + in the name of something stupid, they sold tons of cell bandwidth, at discount rates, to cable companies who are just sitting on it, knowing it means less competion for them.

        Don't blame the carriers, the problems are directly related to government incomplitence. And we want them to own and operate a network based on obsolete technology, please.
    • Nothing is free.

      You can either pay Comcast, or you can pay your corrupt politician. Comcast will give you a better value for your money. But if you're willing to whore your vote, the corrupt politician can get your neighbor to pay for your internet and cell phone.
      • Hold on a minute

        A politician has an honest job of being reelected. Perhaps selling out the stupid people who vote for the politician because the wonderful money from PAC's is unlimited and paid for by you support of the people that use PAC is in fact the true way and you concept of voting and corruption is wrong. Money controls the minds and harts of america by telling you what you want to hear. Is that corrupt? Its legal. Sheep are sheep. Believe. Obey.
      • Nice capitalist dogma. Too bad it has NO empirical support

        You keep spouting this nonsense as if you expect it to just be accepted as de facto truth. The conservatives have been mouthing this nonsense for so long, they take it as a given, and expect that everyone else does too. The problem is, it's not. NO empirical data has ever supported the notion that private enterprise gives you better value for money. So instead, conservatives spew out tortured logical treatises about profit motive and market dynamics and blah blah blah, but forget that a theory is only as good as the data that support it. If your theory does not match the data, it is wrong. Period.
        And the theory does not match the data. Time after time, when the subject is actually looked at empirically, or implemented in some concrete form, reality smacks conservative dogma in the face.
        Case in point. In SW PA, the government of Allegheny county/Pittsburgh underwent a rather drastic upheaval, switching from a County Council to a County Executive. The first person elected to this position was Republican James Roddey, elected on a platform of just this type of nonsense. On his election, he immediately commissioned a review board, stacked with members with clear right-wing dogmatic bias, to study all aspects of county government, to determine which areas of government could be sold off to private enterprise, under the belief that it would both save the tax payer money, and simultaneously provide better services. You know, the whole right-wing private enterprise mantra. This commission was initiated with great fanfare and pomp and ceremony. And then… nothing.
        Why? Not because they didn't do the work. Oh, they did all right, causing mayhem all over the region, turning over this and that, trying to find areas of government waste and largesse. But when it came down to proving a case that these services could be better handled by private enterprise, and that government control and regulation had instilled waste and graft, they were unable to make the case, even to themselves. In fact, they found that in almost EVERY instance, a detailed analysis showed that keeping the services under the auspices of the county government reduced costs by at least 10% and provided better services than would have been provided by the various private concerns bidding on the proposed contracts.
        This INCLUDED the Bob O'Connor memorial golf course! If anything would have fared better in private hands, you would think it would be a recreational facility like a public golf course. But no, the stacked commission was unable to prove that even this would be better run, more efficiently and with better service, in private hands.
        So in the end, the Roddey administration quietly disbanded the commission, failed to even publish the report, and hoped that no one noticed. And Allegheny County went on as before. He also wasn't re-elected.
        This is not an isolated incident. It has been repeated all over the country, from small boroughs in Colorado, to large metro areas in CA.
        Your "private enterprise gives you better value for your money than big bloated government credo may resonate with you sense of anti-establishment bravado, but it has no basis in fact, and quite simply is not true.
        This does NOT mean that there are not instances of waste in government, not by any means. But there is also waste in corporations. Anyone who claims otherwise is just at odds with the facts. The whole ability of corporations to downsize in times of economic difficulty shows that there is fat that could have been cut PRIOR to the downturn.

        Oh, and quite a few things are free. Like freedom, no matter what silly nonsense about freedom not being so you have printed on your T-shirt.
        • So then

          What businesses shouldn't be taken over by the goverment. We will get free internet - and I suppose, cuz government will do it so good, everyone will be happy.

          If that is the case, the government should take over clothing stores too, and then take out the "profit" from food sales by taking over the grocery stores, only allow government TV and computer manufactureres.

          I love the idea. Communism will work this time where it has never worked before. You really opened my eyes DeusExMachina.
          • Who sad anything about government taking over businesses?

            Most businesses should not be taken over by government. Not that that is even remotely relevant to the current discussion. As to your totally off topic rant about Communism, being that there has not been a single country in the history of the world that had a Communistic system of government, what exactly are you talking about.

            P.S. You would do well to not use words, like Communism (or Socialism) whose definition you CLEARLY do not know.
    • Knowing the government

      We will end up subsidizing the system - but the number of stations will be too low, the number of employees running the thing will be 2x as much as needed - every senator/congressman will load the thing with pork.

      Because it is "free" access everyone will try to use it and get a fraction of Cell Phone G3 speeds. We will all complain about the service constantly but not use anything else because it is "free"

      I think I would rather have a system set up by the cell phone companies - they can experiment with what is best and provide it.

      Turns out this WiMax like network may not have been the best plan after all since Sprint, the only company to try it, is dumping. So yeah, lets have the government build up a failed system. Yes!
      • Not so wise, old bird

        Yeah, just like the National Park system, which everyone complains about, for just those reasons (/sarcasm).
        In fact, far more people complain about the shoddy service from private concerns like AT&T and Verizon, of exorbitant rates, than complain about government services, even the DMV.
        Your conservative dogma may sound good on paper, but when it is confronted with actual facts, it falls apart into senseless tea party whining.
        If private enterprise is so much better than central government for all things, why on earth do we have a military? Surely it would be better run if we sold the Pentagon to Haliburton.
        But you keep sucking at the corporate teat. You seem to think they know what's best for you. Funny, since you get NO say in what they do, whereas you are essentially a stockholder in the government, and DO have a voice, should you chose to use it.

        But to address the clear (pun intended) inaccuracies in your comment, Sprint is NOT the only company to use WiMAX, WiMAX II is technically superior to LTE, and the industry moving that way had nothing to do with shortfalls in WiMAX II, it had to do with a number of totally irrelevant considerations, such as the availability of handsets, and the economics of supporting a minority technology.
        • yeah right

          Name another agency. One of the reasons the National park service works so well over say state park systems is that the National park service auctions off the rights for campground management and concessions to private companies. States try to keep it all in government.

          The real reason our cell network is going up in price is that the FCC is not auctioning off bandwidth fast enought. They are just sitting on it, or misallocating it. Like when they gave it away to cable companies who are just sitting on bandwitch, completely unused.

          Show me a problem and 95% of the time I can show you how government caused it.
          • Monumentally misinformed

            As to your National Parks comment, I suspect you will be hard pressed to provide empirical support for ANY of what you wrote. You want another agency? NASA.
            As to your ridiculous comments about cell networks, the U.S. already has the highest prices for basic cell services, and data, in the industrialized world, and the worst service. So much for the free market. You beg to differ? Please name a single country where cell service costs more. How about data? And no, this has NOTHING to do with bandwidth, as it is equally constrained in other countries.
            Also amusing that you bring up spectrum auctions, as that is part of the problem. The short term windfall philosophy of the FCC, auctioning off spectrum to the highest bidder, leads to these high prices and shoddy service, unlike the system almost everywhere else, where spectrum is made available to the lowest bidder, the company that can offer the best service for the cheapest end user price.
            As for your last comment, I am sure you can. You would also be wrong 99% of the time.
    • Nothing's Free

      I don't care what they say, it will cost us in the form of taxes I am sure. And, the government will control it. Two things we DON'T want!
      • Why?

        If it were free, and the government taxed proceeds that derived from its use, proceeds that would not otherwise exist, it most certainly IS free.
        And you prefer Verizon, over which you have NO say and whose motives are ENTIRELY selfish, to a government over which you do have at least a theoretical say, and whose motives are far less self interested? Why, exactly?
        • Can the government take over the internet

          Offer free service, folks all get on the government internet. Other source wither away, then we are all stuck on the government system. Then the government can censor pages "to protect us" first the gambling sites, then the porn sites, then the sites that monitor the government ...

          Seems like a great plan to me!
          • news flash

            Everybody that was on the internet early did get on the government internet. Once DARPA-NET was proven by military, industrial and educational users, then private industry started building it out as a for profit venture.
          • Um, newsflash, the government can ALREADY do that if they wanted.

            You CLEARLY know nothing about the technological basis of the Internet. NOTHING you are proposing is not already currently possible.