AIR.U to connect universities with "Super Wi-Fi"

The new consortium behind AIR.U aims to bring white spaces broadband technology to under-served university communities, and it's got some powerful backers.

First there was Gig.U. Now there's AIR.U.

The New America Foundation announced yesterday that a large group of higher-education associations, public interest groups and technology companies have joined together to tackle broadband access in under-served university communities. The AIR.U (Advanced Internet Regions University) consortium plans to deploy so-called "Super Wi-Fi" networks on campuses with limited existing broadband service. Its speed goals are far more modest than those of its Gig.U parent, but AIR.U will rely on white spaces wireless technology and will target harder-to-reach, largely rural locations.

The announcement of AIR.U shows just how much momentum there is behind broadband expansion in the United States this year. First came Gig.U's introduction of the Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program in May , then the launch of U.S. Ignite two weeks ago , and now AIR.U.

Says Blair Levin, Executive Director of Gig.U:

We could not be more delighted that AIR.U was born out of the Gig.U effort, which only further validates the need to upgrade the bandwidth available to communities surrounding our research universities and our colleges throughout the country. We firmly believe this deployment of next generation broadband networks and services will be an economic tide to raise all boats.

Levin is certainly on a roll. Before AIR.U and Gig.U, the former FCC official directed development of the National Broadband Plan, which was finalized in 2010. The broadband plan garnered both praise and criticism when it was announced, but whether Levin took either to heart, he's clearly decided that broadband expansion is his professional mission.

Beyond Gig.U and a wide range of colleges and universities in the U.S., other partners in the Air.U consortium include Microsoft, Google, and the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation think tank. The Air.U program will begin this summer, with plans for initial pilot networks to be developed in 2013. Despite some early white spaces technology deployments, much of the equipment for "Super Wi-Fi" networks is not expected to become widely available until next year.

Image credit: New America Foundation

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