What You Need to Know About White Space Wi-Fi

The FCC vote to make unused TV white space available as unlicensed wireless bandwidth will spark a Wi-Fi revolution

Yesterday the FCC voted unanimously to approve the use of broadcast television white space as unlicensed wireless spectrum. The advent of white space "Wi-Fi on steroids" could be the catalyst for a new wireless revolution leading to unprecedented investment and innovation. So, what exactly is the big deal about this white space Wi-Fi thing?

As freeing as the current wireless networking technology is, it is also very limited. It is great to be able to access network resources, or connect to the Internet without being tethered to a desk or wall by a CAT5 LAN cable, but simply walking into the next room is often enough to degrade the wireless network signal to a frustrating level.

Unleashing the unused white space of broadcast television bandwidth opens up the potential to completely transform wireless networking. The three key elements that make white space Wi-Fi so compelling are its range, the ability to traverse obstacles, and faster wireless networking speeds.

Range: Current wireless routers are lucky if they can cover a football field. A range of a couple hundred feet is considered acceptable. White space wireless devices will have a range of miles instead of feet.

Obstacles: One of the primary factors limiting the range of current wireless technology is that it is easily obstructed. While the signal can theoretically travel hundreds of feet, place a couple walls between the wireless router and the mobile device trying to connect and the signal quality could be questionable at best. White space wireless networks can travel seamlessly through walls, trees, and other obstructions just as broadcast TV signals have done for decades.

Speed: 802.11n wireless networks can transmit data between 160 and 300 megabits per second. That is significantly faster than the previous 802.11b or 802.11g networks, but less than half of the 400 to 800 megabits per second expected from white space wireless devices. Even at long range, white space wireless networks can deliver network speeds much greater than current 3G or even 4G mobile broadband technology.

As white space wireless devices hit the mainstream, businesses will be able to replace the current wireless infrastructure with a fraction of the hardware. Microsoft is already experimenting with white space Wi-Fi at its Redmond campus and can replace thousands of current wireless access points with just two white space Wi-Fi routers.

The ability to deliver high-speed wireless networking that covers entire city blocks could eventually disrupt the nickel and diming data plans of the wireless carriers, and even make mobile hotspot devices obsolete.

Now, we just have to wait for the white space Wi-Fi technology to be available.

This story, "What You Need to Know About White Space Wi-Fi" was originally published by PCWorld.

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