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FCC Approves "Wi-Fi On Steroids"

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It finally happened. Nearly a year after the FCC began enabling white space broadband Wi-Fi devices, the organization has officially made the so-called "white space spectrum"—radio frequencies previously used for analog television transmissions—available for wireless broadband. The frequencies will be both free and and unlicensed.

White space is, according to Google co-founder Larry Page, like Wi-Fi on steroids. At first, the white space spectrum may be used to expand our existing technology—turning a handful of wireless hotspots on a college campus into one giant wireless signal field, for example. But eventually, the newly available frequencies could have a number of other applications: expanding wireless coverage in rural areas that are far from cable routes, wirelessly connecting vehicles so that they can alert drivers to traffic jams, and personalized ads that pick up on signals from your smartphone.

White space also has major implications for the smart grid. Google and Spectrum Bridge recently launched the country's first smart grid wireless network trial in Plumas-Sierra County, California with an experimental license from the FCC. As part of the trial, the companies are sending data from smart electric meters to utilities via white spaces. The trial has allowed the country's local utility, Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative & Telecommunication, to manage the electrical grid's power flow remotely. Now that the FCC has officially approved use of white space, Plumas-Sierra could become home to the first real white space smart grid network.

The FCC's move isn't without its detractors. Broadcasters believe that white space devices could interfere with sports leagues, TV signals, and other applications that rely on wireless microphones. But the FCC's new rules specify that white space devices can't be used near major entertainment venues, near TV broadcast stations, or in other specified "safe zones." In any case, there is no stopping the white space gold rush that is about to begin.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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