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First 'Super Wi-Fi' network goes live in North Carolina

Lucky residents of Wilmington, N.C., will be the first in the nation to have access to a "Super Wi-Fi" network.

Officials from New Hanover County, N.C., announced today that they had become the first in the United States to deploy a mobile data network on so-called "white spaces" spectrum that the Federal Communications Commission first authorized for unlicensed use in 2008. The county was able to make a quick transition in using the spectrum for a mobile data network because it was the first to successfully transition from analog to digital television.

RELATED: FCC approves first white spaces database, device 

FLASHBACK: FCC takes 'free love' approach to white spaces spectrum

"Super Wi-Fi" is essentially a buzzword created by the FCC to describe mobile data networks that run over the white spaces spectrum. The spectrum band's low frequency allows for signals to travel farther and penetrate more walls than traditional Wi-Fi networks.

Television "white spaces" are pieces of unlicensed spectrum that are currently unused by television stations on the VHF and UHF frequency bands and that have long been seen as prime spectrum for unlicensed wireless Internet services. In 2008, the FCC, then headed by former Chairman Kevin Martin, voted to let carriers and other vendors deploy devices in white space spectrum that operates unlicensed at powers of 100 milliwatts, as well as on white space channels adjacent to existing television stations at powers of up to 40 milliwatts.

This past fall the FCC removed the requirement that devices operating on TV bands have built-in sensors that would automatically shut down the devices if they came into contact with an adjacent television signal. Instead, the FCC now says that giving devices geolocation capability and access to a spectrum database will be sufficient to protect broadcasters' spectrum from interference. The spectrum sensor requirement had originally been put in place to satisfy concerns of television broadcasters that were worried that unlicensed use of white spaces could interfere with their broadcast quality.

The debate over white spaces has been a contentious one, with tech companies such as Google and Microsoft pitted against all the major broadcasting companies, as well as major telecom carriers such as Verizon. Proponents of unlicensed white space use have often argued that opening up the spectrum would help bring mobile broadband to underserved regions and would help close the so-called "digital divide" between many urban and rural areas in the United States. On the other side, the National Association of Broadcasters has argued that mobile Internet devices cannot operate on unlicensed spectrum without clashing with broadcasts on nearby frequencies.

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