September 13, 2010, 11:49 AM — The FCC will vote next week to make the white space portion of the television broadcast spectrum publicly available for use in wireless networks. If approved, it could enable a new generation of "Wi-Fi on steroids" devices capable of transmitting data through walls and over much greater distances than current wireless technologies.
Broadcast television networks and organizations that rely on wireless microphones have opposed the use of the broadcast spectrum white space, citing fears that data transmitted in that range will interfere with their signals. The FCC has developed a framework designed to prevent any disruption of existing service, though, and is now set to move forward.
The FCC has worked with the concerned parties and come up with a plan that ensures that devices using the white space spectrum will not interfere with adjacent broadcasts. The FCC has mapped TV channels and major wireless microphone usage (such as the Broadway theater district in New York City, or major sports arenas), and will require that wireless devices using the white space be configured to avoid the frequencies in use in a given area. Devices could be built to be location-aware, and automatically configure themselves based on information in the database.
The pros seem to heavily outweigh the cons for opening up the spectrum white space for use by wireless networks. The "super Wi-Fi" possible in the broadcast white space has a range of several miles, rather than the length of a football field, and it is capable of traveling through obstructions like walls. With a range like that, and speeds rivaling cable modem broadband, it is easy to see how this could open up a whole new realm of wireless technologies and fundamentally change how and where wireless is used.
Of course, there are two sides to the "Wi-Fi on steroids" story. Businesses and consumers today are still struggling to understand and implement effective wireless network security. If you can drive down the street and find random unprotected wireless networks with the current range limitations, imagine how many unsecured wireless networks you could detect if the signal could travel farther and go through walls. With a wireless network that extends beyond walls and covers a greater range, security will be even more critical.