For the lucky 106,000 or so people living in Wilmington, NC, white spaces have gone live.
Last month, I discussed the coming launch of white spaces – chunks of TV broadcast channels that opened up when television made the switch from analog to digital.
The technology utilizing these white spaces works just like Wi-Fi currently does, allowing devices to tap into wireless networks as usual.
And the FCC has given the green light for two companies to open up the Wilmington Network: Spectrum Bridge and Koos Technical Services.
Now that the network is online, what can Wilmington residents expect from these newly utilized white spaces?
For now, the technology will be used to “provide free internet access in city parks, for traffic cams and environmental monitoring,” according to PCWorld.
For instance, white spaces are now connecting four surveillance cameras at Hugh MacRae Park. In addition, it’s providing backup to traditional Wi-Fi for park visitors.
But why go with white spaces rather than traditional Wi-Fi ?
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The biggest benefit of white spaces is that their frequencies are located at a lower spectrum band than Wi-Fi. Which, simply put, means that the technology not only delivers a signal across longer distances than Wi-Fi, but the signal can also blast through walls and other obstacles.
So it has obvious potential for home internet networks. (I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of connection issues with the Wi-Fi signal once you travel a few rooms away from your router.)
And since it can pass through trees and buildings, it’s the perfect choice for places like Wilmington that want to deliver video feeds of the park without worrying about trees blocking a signal. Or corporations that want to install wireless security systems in buildings made of concrete.
In my original post on the subject, I mentioned that white spaces should be faster than Wi-Fi, too.
Potential speeds were supposed to reach up to 800 megabits per second (Mbps), according to PC World. That would be faster than today’s Wi-Fi, which tops out around 300 to 600 Mbps.
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But, sadly, it looks like real world speeds – at least for now – are closer to 15 Mbps. Still, that’s about in-line with the speeds that you might be getting from your current broadband provider, and it’s fast enough to watch streaming video on Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) without a problem.
Not bad for free internet access that can travel great distances and penetrate concrete.
So how long until your city starts opening up a free white spaces network of its own?
To Wilmington, and Beyond!
According to Forbes:
“This year, as illustrated by the Wilmington examples, the technology will primarily be used for machine-to-machine communication.”
But as soon as 2013, the technology is going to have a much broader reach. Peter Stanforth, Spectrum Bridge’s CTO, says:
“In a year or two, you will be able to use white space just like you use Wi-Fi now… You will be able to buy a white spaces device just like you buy a Wi-Fi device today.”
Not to mention the technology’s ability to deliver wireless connectivity across vast distances means that it can bring the internet to rural areas that currently have zero wireless access.
As Rod Dir, CEO of Spectrum Bridge, says:
“With the explosive demand for spectrum and technology now available to enable more bandwidth, this is a big step forward in developing the next multi-billion-dollar market driven by the innovation of new wireless services.”
Needless to say, white spaces – and the technology that supports them – are going to get a lot of attention in the coming months. So we’re keeping it at the top of our watch list. I suggest you do the same.