Not all hospitals and clinics are within easy reach of fiber.
Those that have fiber can create amazing networks. They can create a WiFi mesh that will speed imaging reports from radiology to doctors' handheld devices, that let sick patients play games with their grandchildren, and that make the wireless health Internet a reality.
For those without, not so much. Hospitals like Hocking Valley Community Hospital in Logan, Ohio would love to give WiFi to doctors, patients and families, but how do they backhaul the signal?
The answer, under an experimental one-year FCC license, is called a white spaces radio.
Spectrum Bridge Inc. of Lake Mary, Florida installed a data radio that can use the space between TV channels, called "white space" because 50 years ago viewers who stumbled between channels would see just fuzzy white space and hear fuzzy white noise.
Since a white space radio is using much lower frequencies than the microwave-lengths of WiFi, it requires more power to operate. But it can also push a signal much further, even through walls. Just like with the old antenna TV you (or your parents) grew up with.
Thus, with an omnidirectional antenna, Spectrum Bridge was able to find a broadband connection for the hospital.
Too bad it's a one-year license.
But wait. On September 23 the FCC will look at the experiments Spectrum Bridge, and others, have done since November 2008. They're expected to issue a final rule on white space radios, which after a public comment period (just like meaningful use) and editing will become final in about six months.
Once that happens, equipment makers will be free to make gear that meets the FCC's specifications, standards bodies like the IEEE will be able to work on improved encoding schemes called 802.11AF, and the market for long distance WiFi signals will blossom.