Yesterday ‘Super WiFi’ (to be 802.11af) Launched in New Hanover County, North Carolina

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 Yesterday Super WiFi launched in New Hanover County, North Carolina! If you’re not familiar with Super Wifi, it’s essentially WiFi re-using the in-between spaces of TV channels below 700MHz and above 50MHz.  This is the first outdoor non trial deployment that I am aware of. This was the result of the FCC, feeling a little silly regarding Light Squared (ok, I made that part up), Spectrum Bridge a venture funded start up (2007), and the county of New Hanover County in North Carolina getting off their duff and deploying on white space capable radio channels using 802.11 Wifi as the Physical Layer protocol .  It looks like Spectrum Bridge provided the channel list and other services while it’s unclear where the county got the radios from, the usual suspects range from Google, Microsoft and Cisco to Neul and Carlson to KTS Wireless. My bet is that since KTS Wireless had the first FCC approved radio, it’s likely to be theirs. New Hanover County is using their WiFi network to surveil on a subdivision and collect telemetry from their water infrastructure although it appears they will provide citizen WiFi at outdoor locations such as Hugh MacRae Park. They seem to be happy with the performance.

In testing white space, Chaney says “We see ranges of up to 1.5 miles on a point-to-point application of the spectrum including signal propagation through vegetation and buildings.  Installing these newly approved radios and appropriate antennas could allow wireless service far beyond traditional boundaries.”

I’m yet unclear if the ranges mean the 2.4GHz WiFi or the <700MHz ‘SuperWiFi’ backhaul. The IEEE standardization effort is known as 802.11af and the timeline, looks to be around 2013 when fully standardized is here. Note, in the past you may have heard that Super WiFi was 802.22 and was touted to have 100KM/62Mi ranges. 802.22 is a cognitive radio effort, a good element of practical deployment for whitespaces, a different animal than 802.11 and WiMAX 802.16, so it looks like logic prevailed and the more practical use of effort was to take a working standard, 802.11 (WiFi) and update it. A good backstory primer is in the Spectrum Broker blog here.

Lastly, the trouble with whitespace radio as the FCC has it today is that there are many places, mainly populated, where there are 0 or 1 channels available. Unless and until there is some relaxation from the FCC this is going to be very limited. I think the obvious connection to LTE and 4G is complimentary when used as backhaul and competitive when offered directly to end users. I suspect that the battleground would be mainly rural stationary users as it’s not a good mobile technology. Progress nonetheless…
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