Thumbs-up For 'Wi-Fi On Steroids'

Dennis Faas's picture

Regulators have backed plans to allow unlicensed wireless devices to use that section of airwaves freed up when analogue TV transmissions cease next year. It could mean considerably faster mobile broadband, though it could be bad news for rock stars.

The Federal Communications Commission has voted in favour of rules it calls "a careful first step" towards unlicensed use of 'white spaces'. Those are some of the frequencies currently used for over-the-air television broadcasts; those frequencies will no longer be used after February when TV networks switch to an all-digital format.

While there'll be no need for licenses to use the frequencies, manufacturers must follow guidelines designed to minimise the risk of interference. Most devices will have to include a component to track their position, plus some form of Internet connection; this will allow them to check a database to see which frequencies are currently clear in their location.

Some devices which don't have these facilities and simply scan through frequencies to check for interference will be allowed, but they'll face much more detailed testing before getting the go-ahead.

Fears still remain that the unlicensed devices might still interfere with wireless microphones, and firms producing sports and entertainment events have opposed the plans. Shure, the market leader in wireless mics, warned that the scheme would "greatly complicate the lives" of its customers.

The FCC rejects these concerns and says it will include the details of all locations using wireless microphones in the database, blocking any other devices from trying to use the same frequencies. The Commission also says all devices will have to go through its approval procedure, which includes real-world testing to check measures to avoid interference are effective. (Source:

The plans could make it possible to run a wireless broadband network across an entire community, with Motorola saying it should be able to cover 15 square miles from a single transmission point. Meanwhile Google's Larry Page described the technology as "WiFi on steroids" and welcomed the FCC vote as a triumph of "science over politics". (Source:

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