Mobile

FCC votes to open up empty broadcast TV spectrum for "Super-WiFi"

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously today to open up empty broadcast TV spectrum — so-called “white spaces” which exist between TV channels — for a next-generation mobile broadband technology it’s calling “Super-WiFi.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that white space networks will “open a new platform for American innovation and lead to billions of dollars in industry investment.

Companies like Google, Microsoft, Dell, and HP have been planning on ways to use the spectrum for some time. White spaces are ideal for mobile broadband because they can carry large amounts of data, go through walls easily, and offer miles worth of range. Google praised the decision in a blog post and said that it was pleased the agency “rejected calls to enact burdensome and unnecessary constraints that would have made it more difficult to deploy useful technologies on these airwaves.”

As part of the decision, the FCC will create a national database of broadcast TV channels and major wireless microphone users (theaters, churches). White space networks and devices will have the ability to find their own location and consult the database to avoid conflicts. The agency originally voted to open up white spaces for mobile broadband two years ago, but TV broadcasters  and wireless microphone manufacturers and users raised concerns about potential interference. The database announced today should help avoid those issues.

While the use of white spaces may sound like mobile internet heaven, the FCC and big tech companies may be overstating the spectrum’s value, according to Martin Suter, VP of business development at BelAir Networks. In a TechCrunch comment, Suter pointed to an earlier post he wrote on why the promises behind white space networks may be overblown — particularly when it comes to estimated range and bandwidth figures.

But even if Suter is correct, white space networks will be helpful to rural areas of America where it’s difficult to implement cable, DSL, or fiber broadband access.

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