A new form of technology recycling has begun, with the old frequency reserved for over-the-air TV networks being repurposed for what some people call “Super Wi-Fi,” providing wireless networking that has a range in the hundreds of miles instead of hundreds of feet.
As America has moved to the digital high definition channels, the old UHF and VHF frequencies that our TV’s rabbit ears utilized have been left abandoned. These frequencies, called “white spaces,” are powered by high-frequency towers to reach many miles. So some folks decided what better use for a transmitter that can send a signal 10, 20, or 50 miles than give people wireless Internet access?
In 2008, the FCC decided to let carriers and other vendors deploy devices in old UHF and VHF white space spectrum. This first deployment is in New Hanover County, N.C., which includes the relatively large city of Wilmington. The county was chosen because it was the first to successfully transition from analog to digital television, which was supposed to have been completed by 2008.
The white spaces are managed by the FCC and there has been a battle between the FCC and tech companies like Google and Microsoft. One side wants the government to manage the adoption of white spaces while the other side argues the spectrum should be left alone, because that’s how Wi-Fi originally developed, in an unlicensed spectrum.
Not Coming to a City Near You
Regardless of how the debate goes, don’t expect Super Wi-Fi in a major city any time soon. It’s being rolled out in rural America not just because it’s easier to deploy and test in case something goes wrong, it’s also more feasible.
“You’re not see [Super Wi-Fi] in big cities any time soon,” said John Byrne, research director for wireless infrastructure at IDC. “Wi-Fi is ready for prime time now and you are seeing a lot of deployments being integrated into urban environments, so it isn’t all that important [to use Super Wi-Fi] in an urban environment.”
Major cities like New York and San Francisco have Wi-Fi density thanks to many public businesses, like coffee shops, offering Wi-Fi in a small area. But in rural America, where people are spread far apart, the UHF/VHF spectrum makes it easier to blast out a Wi-Fi signal to cover a wide area.
Other areas working on Super Wi-Fi deployments include Plumas, California, in the Sierra Madre mountains, Claudville, Virginia, a remote town in an unincorporated part of Virginia, and Logan, Ohio, a town of 7,100 in south central Ohio.