Coming soon: ‘Super Wi-Fi’ connectivity?


Technology companies envision all sorts of uses for white spaces: providing emergency services in disaster zones and creating home wireless networks that can send video between television sets and computers, to name just a few possibilities.

Assuming the challenges of interference with wireless microphones can be worked out, the technology also could prove useful for schools to deliver wireless connections across their buildings or campuses that have enough bandwidth to support video and other robust applications.

And it could be particularly useful for delivering wireless connectivity within older buildings where concrete walls and other barriers impede the strength of wireless signals.

Wilmington, N.C., one of a handful of U.S. communities testing the technology, is using white-spaces connections to send live video feeds from traffic and surveillance cameras.

The city’s network also gathers real-time data from a sensor in a remote part of the local watershed to monitor water quality and levels. Previously, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said, the city had to send a worker out in a boat once a month to collect the data, as the city’s Wi-Fi network could not reach the sensor.

“There are a million and one possibilities for this spectrum,” Saffo said.

Neeraj Srivastava, a vice president at a Florida company called Spectrum Bridge Inc., noted that white-spaces networks could be used to bring high-speed internet access to remote corners of the country where the phone and cable companies don’t offer landline broadband. That’s a high priority for the FCC.

Indeed, Spectrum Bridge, which helped build the Wilmington network, also helped build a test system in rural Claudeville, Va., a community that had only dial-up internet and costly satellite-based broadband service before.

For now, it remains unclear whether the FCC’s plan for dealing with interference will go far enough for the broadcast industry, which wants the FCC to require that white-spaces devices include spectrum-sensing technology that can detect when airwaves already are being used. The FCC left that requirement out amid opposition from the tech industry.

“This is still a work in progress,” said David Donovan, head of the Association for Maximum Service Television, which handles technical issues facing broadcasters. “But we’re trying to make it work.”