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North Carolina's 'Super Wi-Fi' network being relegated to public spaces for now

Commercial residential use to come sometime next year

By Brad Reed, Network World
January 30, 2012 01:53 PM ET

Network World - So now that the first "Super Wi-Fi" network has gone live in Wilmington, N.C., we can expect the technology to quickly spread around the country and become available for residential use, right?

Well, not so fast. New Hanover County IT Director Leslie Chaney says that the network is being used primarily as backhaul technology for the time being and won't be available for residential subscribers in the county for at least a year.

"Right now we're using our white space radios to extend coverage out to parks and gardens for public Wi-Fi access," she says. "Right now we're just using the radio as a backhaul technology. It's shooting data out to standard Wi-Fi access points."

BACKGROUND: First "Super Wi-Fi" network goes live in North Carolina

ANALYSIS: FCC takes "free love" approach to white spaces spectrum

There are a few reasons why "Super Wi-Fi" -- a buzzword created by the FCC to describe wireless technology deployed over unused television white spaces spectrum -- isn't yet ready to take America by storm. The first, notes Chaney, is that some standards in the technology are still being worked out and thus manufacturers have yet to mass-produce chipsets that will run on the spectrum. In fact, the prototype white spaces radios and chipsets are so expensive right now that New Hanover County is renting them from TV Band Service, the Wilmington, N.C.-based company that is integrating the county's wireless system.

"The early technology is so much more expensive and we didn't want the county to pay for it up front," explains Chaney.

The other reason is that New Hanover County was in a unique position to be the first to deploy a white space network since it was also the first county in America to transition from analog to digital television. This, combined with the fact that Hanover County started experimenting with white spaces technology shortly after making the transition, means that the widespread adoption of white space devices is likely at least two or three years away for the rest of the country.

In the meantime, New Hanover County residents can enjoy expanded access to public Wi-Fi services in public parks thanks to "Super Wi-Fi"-powered backhaul that lets the county cover more ground using fewer radios. Stephen Coran, an attorney at Rini Coran who frequently represents telecom, media and technology clients, says that the low frequency of the white space spectrum bands means that the signal can propagate in ways that traditional Wi-Fi networks can't even come close to achieving.

"Anytime you're at lower frequencies, you'll be less affected by rain, less affected by walls," he says. "When you don't have a lot of vertical infrastructure and you have a sparse population, this will be a tremendous money saver when it comes to deployment costs."

Chaney has been similarly impressed by "Super Wi-Fi" so far, even though the technology is still in its infancy.

"It goes through walls, it goes through trees," she says. "It's got a lot better propagation than what you see with 802.11."

Read more about wireless & mobile in Network World's Wireless & Mobile section.

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