The prospect of “WiFi on steroids” took a big step forward today with the Federal Communications Commission's approval of the first database and first device for “white spaces,” or the unused spectrum between TV channels.
“With today’s approval of the first TV white spaces database and device, we are taking an important step towards enabling a new wave of wireless innovation,” FCC Chair Julius Genachowski said in a statement. “Unleashing white spaces spectrum has the potential to exceed even the many billions of dollars in economic benefit from Wi-Fi, the last significant release of unlicensed spectrum, and drive private investment and job creation.”
When the FCC approved the use of white spaces for mobile broadband in 2008, then-chairman Kevin Martin said the decision would lead to WiFi on steroids. But technical details proved challenging and the FCC didn't adopt final rules until last year.
Google, Microsoft and broadband advocates backed the plan to use white spaces for Web access, arguing that it will encourage companies to create new wireless broadband networks because the radio airwaves are powerful enough to transmit through walls and across large areas. But incumbent users like the National Association of Broadcasters, Broadway theaters and performers criticized the move, saying that mobile broadband on the spectrum could interfere with existing uses.
One safeguard against interference comes from the white spaces database, which will track which frequencies are available. Spectrum Bridge was named today as the first database provider; Koos Technical Services was named as provider of the first devices that will be allowed to operate on unused TV waves.
Advocacy group Public Knowledge cheered today's announcement by the FCC. Harold Feld, the organization’s legal director, said in a statement that using white spaces for WiFi “marks a new era in open wireless technology.”
When they say 'WiFi on Steroids' they are referring to coverage not bandwidth - big difference! Assuming this will be free since the days of paying for WiFi are behind us (unless you're on a plane) performance will be a huge issue. The number of WiFi enabled devices today combined with the demand for bandwidth heavy content would bring speeds to well below dial up from the onset. Anyone who's tried using the free WiFi in NYC knows what I'm talking about - this will be worse still. As a brand marketer, I would be very wary, wouldn't want my brand associated with poor performance which will inevitably cause irritation among users.