Wi-Fi on Steroids: Make Room for More 'White Space'

FCC set to authorize Wi-Fi service that would connect an entire community.

Sept. 14, 2010— -- Imagine popping open your laptop or firing up your hand-held anywhere you happen to be and, presto, instantly showing five full bars of muscular Wi-Fi service.

There'd be no need to scurry off to find a Starbucks, or a McDonalds, or any other place with a Wi-Fi hotspot. You'd be in a Wi-Fi hot-zone, or maybe even a Wi-Fi hot-region.

Something similar could become reality soon if the FCC gives the green light on "white space," the area that has always existed between broadcast-TV frequencies. In a famous scene from the 1982 movie "Poltergeist," the young actress, Heather O'Rourke, stared at a flickering TV and announced, "They're heeere!" She was starring at "white space."

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to make more "white space" available for wireless communication Sept. 23, which is likely to open yet another brave new world for broadband connectivity. Some pundits have already called it "Wi-Fi on steroids."

The commission approved the idea in principle two years ago, but it has been short-circuited by arguments about technical details. The FCC is scheduled to vote on rules designed to end the interference.

Wi-Fi technology is designed for very short-range use; in your home, office or at the local coffee shop. Signals at the lower-end of the "white space" spectrum, around 700 megahertz, can travel long distances, muscle their way through walls and create a much larger Wi-Fi-type hot spot.

It's like bringing Wi-Fi over an entire community or city, CNET.com writer Maggie Reardon said.

Other tech writers, including those at FastCompany.com, see such uses as wireless broadband for areas far from cities or cable centers, including farms. A large university, with dozens of Wi-Fi hotspots, might need only one.

Not everyone is excited about the idea, however.

Broadcasters, especially in densely populated areas with many TV stations, are worried that chit-chat along the "white space" cyber highways will interfere with their transmissions. Ironically, it was the switch from analog to digital signals by television that freed up the extra "white space."

'Super' Wi-Fi Would Advance Innovation

The "white space" is to be made available to broadband users at no cost. It would mean significant advancements for investment and innovation, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said. Possible uses for the extra bandwidth seem endless.

The so-called super Wi-Fi technology offers the possibility of opening up new billion-dollar industries, he added, with developments not yet even on the drawing board.