The IEEE has published a new set of wireless standards designed to extend the WiFi access from a maximum of a few hundred feet to as far as 62 miles, at 22Mbit/sec.
The new spec, the IEEE 802.22 Wireless Regional Area Networks in TV Whitespaces (PDF) is the result of fast technical work following years of legal wrangling with the National Association of Broadcasters and other groups representing companies in the television business.
Like all wireless networking protocols, 802.22 signals are broadcast like radio signals. Except, in this case the frequencies are within the "white spaces" in the VHF and UHF TV bands rather than within the spectrum normally used for radio.
The NAB and other broadcasters' groups fought to keep the FCC from approving use of "white space" – blank areas in the TV spectrum between the frequencies already approved for commercial broadcasters to use.
Broadcasters wanted to keep those white spaces free to keep other signals from interfering with their own, and to give themselves room in which to offer Internet access of their own – as cable companies have done – should they choose to do so.
The FCC shut that down – primarily to get access to more spectrum for use by mobile and broadband signals – then handed responsibility for administering the now-open spaces to a series of IT vendors, including Microsoft and Google.
IEEE, acting with unusually speed – probably not to keep ahead of Microsoft and Google, who were reported to be working on its own proprietary networking protocol for white-space WLAN networking – put together 802.22 and presented it as a way to create Wireless Regional Area Networks (WRAN).
Because the UHF and VHF signals travel farther and more clearly than other WiFi signals the distance at which they can make fast connections is vastly greater than any of IEEE's other WLAN flavors most cell networks and even the much-anticipated but so far disappointing WiMax.
IEEE pitches the protocol as a way to reach remote or rural areas that have little access to broadband or the Internet at all except through dial-up.
It won't be long before cell carriers, cable companies and others start putting up WRAN routers on their poles and towers, however.
Once that starts to happen, we'll be past the point that anyone needs either a more-expensive cell-phone network access point or a highly localized WiFi hotspot signal that keeps us prisoner inside coffee shops and airport lounges.
I don't want to get too excited by the whole thing, but WRAN smells...a lot like...freedom (and a lot less like burned Starbucks).