Look Ma, No Wires: Browsing at the Speed of Sound

Imagine opening your laptop or your hand-held anywhere you happen to be and instantly showing five full bars of muscular Wi-Fi service? Nirvana.

There would be no need 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.

Current Wi-Fi technology is designed for very short-range use such as in your home, office or at the local coffee shop. Signals at the lower-end of the “white space” spectrum, or 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. You can skip the expensive cabling and go wireless.

A proposed Order implementing open access to the vacant TV channels in every media market nationwide will be voted on at the Federal Communication Commission’s September 23 Open Meeting. It will address the next step in its plans for unlicensed use of the TV whitespace (the portions of the TV band that are not used in a particular location to carry TV signals). It has been called ‘wi-fi on steroids’.

The regulatory move, generally supported by all five commissioners, could help alleviate pressure on mobile networks that have frustrated some smartphone users who deal with dropped calls and slow Web connections. Think AT & T in NYC.

Ironically, it was the switch from analog to digital signals by television that freed up the extra “white space.”

“TV white spaces“– the radio spectrum vacated when analog television broadcasting ceased last year operates at lower frequencies and higher power than Wi-Fi, so the signals reach much wider areas than your typical wireless Internet router.
  New devices would be capable of transmitting the Wi-Fi signal over a potential range of several miles, rather than just hundreds of feet, would not be interrupted by walls and other obstructions, and would be as fast as today’s broadband and DSL connections.

Some benefits will provide dynamic management of the air interface, adaptations for vehicular use, computing mesh operation, inter-working with cellular systems, and peer-to-peer link establishment.

Calling the communications technology “super WiFi,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that private carriers are increasingly relying on WiFi hot spots in urban areas to pick up data traffic where their own networks are overburdened.

Genachowski’s proposal would reserve two television channels in each local market for wireless microphones. This is not sitting well with some high-tech companies that argue that priority for wireless microphones subtracts from precious airwaves that could be used for a new wave of mobile broadband devices and uses.

And the new the move faces some opposition from broadcasters, Broadway performers and ministers. Huh? What did you say?? Those critics, who have filed suit against the FCC to prevent the release of white spaces, say users of that spectrum could interfere with television channels and would throw off wireless microphones that operate on those frequencies. News and sports broadcasters, church ministers and singer Dolly Parton have argued to the FCC that they need some spectrum reserved for their wireless microphones. (Dolly, say it ain’t so?)

Operators are likely to experiment with different pricing models as they try to better manage the use of their networks. And some are doing that already with AT&T — often criticized for struggling to keep up with the demands of iPhone users — were one of the first to do away with an unlimited data plan.

“Bandwidth as an end-user service is hard to sell; it’s hard to monetize,” said Wim Sweldens, president of Alcatel-Lucent‘s wireless division. “If you go to a person and say, ‘I’ll sell you a megabyte of mobile bandwidth, how much are you willing to pay?’ nobody can answer that.”

Instead, if users are asked to buy a book or game or sporting experience on their mobile phone or an app for the iPhone or android, they understand the value, he said.

Google, Microsoft and Dell have long lobbied to use white spaces. They want to use the waves to connect entire universities to the Web with wireless links that use fewer bay stations.  And my hunch is that Google would love to have use of this for when they release the Chrome OS licensed to many builders of a portable tablet, due up shortly to compete with the iPad.

Dell envisions that white spaces will spawn innovations for the home. Consumers could rely on refrigerators that automatically signal the home tablet computer when food is running low, and place an order with the neighborhood grocery. Microsoft hopes to connect more of its devices to information stored on its clusters of data centers – known as cloud computing – to allow access from anywhere to applications such as its Office suite of software.

Currently,  we have over 1 billion WiFi chips in every laptop in circulation, chipmakers need to develop chips that are compatible with the spectrum qualities. Then, device makers have to update their iPhones and Kindles to allow users to switch to white-space networks.

I simply want faster wireless speeds anywhere I go. I am tired of being ‘tethered’ to a broadband cable. I say, let it happen.

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