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What is "Super Wi-Fi?"

The Washington Post is reporting that the US Federal Communications Commission wants to "create super WiFi networks." So what are they talking about anyway?
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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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