U.S. seeks to tap unused airwaves for super WiFi

* Signals travel faster over larger areas

* FCC chief touts growth industries

* Availability varies by city, town

By John Poirier

WASHINGTON, Sept 13 (BestGrowthStock) – U.S. consumers clamoring
for more video and email while they’re on the go might see a
whole new breed of faster wireless devices in a couple of years
if regulators move as expected later this month to start
opening up empty airwaves for mobile broadband.

Tech companies are lobbying to use the airwaves to build a
new, super WiFi to serve not only users of mobile devices like
Apple (AAPL.O: ) iPads and other tablets but also homes, schools,
hospitals, businesses and municipalities.

Content providers such as Google (GOOG.O: ) would benefit
from the increased speeds to their sites, while device makers
such as Dell Inc (DELL.O: ), Nokia (NOK1V.HE: ) and Motorola Inc
(MOT.N: ) could profit by building new products to tap into the
airwaves.

Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O: ) and its competitors are prepared to
develop software for a super WiFi.

Broadcasters, however, have complained there could be
interference with channels currently in use.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to adopt
a proposal at a meeting on Sept. 23 to make the unused airwaves
freely available to the entire public.

Considered prime real estate, these empty airwaves, called
“white spaces,” allow signals to travel faster, penetrate walls
more easily and cover larger geographical areas than current
spectrum used for WiFi.

They come from spaces between existing broadcast channels
that were freed up during the digital transition completed in
2009.

The airwaves are ideal for some rural communities where it
would be costly to install miles of wires and cables
underground or atop telephone poles.

“There is every reason to believe that this release of
unlicensed spectrum can generate new multibillion-dollar
industries in the United States,” FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

In 2008 the FCC took the first step of approving the use of
white spaces for wireless broadband.

It is not yet known how the FCC’s final rule will address
broadcasters’ concerns or how the industry’s standard-setting
body should proceed with technical details.

The National Association of Broadcasters said it is working
with the FCC to adopt a final rule that would prevent
interference.

Freeing up some spectrum would be a small victory for
Genachowski, who has been criticized by some for not acting
more decisively on major issues such as how to regulate
high-speed Internet traffic.

Freeing up airwaves for wireless broadband is also a major
goal of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, which is aimed at
making affordable broadband available to all Americans.

Spectrum, a limited and highly coveted resource, is at the
center of a push by wireless companies seeking to meet a huge
demand in handheld devices over the next decade.

“This will help address that demand,” Genachowski said.

NEXT GENERATION

Consumers may have to wait at a year and a half to two
years to start seeing the benefits as network operators, chip
vendors and device manufacturers all work together to create
industry standards similar to the ones used for current WiFi.

“The white spaces have the potential to spark the next
generation of wireless communications,” said Google telecom and
media counsel Rick Whitt.

Google is among a group of tech companies touting the
benefits of the empty channels, telling regulators in a July
letter that new products will lead to new investment and create
jobs — music to the ears of any regulator and politician.

The industry group which also includes Hewlett-Packard Co
(HPQ.N: ), Skype, Atheros Communications Inc (ATHR.O: ) and
Broadcom Corp (BRCM.O: ), says homes, campuses, municipalities
and energy grids will benefit from white spaces.

The benefits could vary from city to city. Top markets such
as New York and Los Angeles may have fewer vacant channels than
smaller metropolitan areas but officials expect 5 to 10
channels to be vacant in most U.S. cities.

Companies are working on how to outfit devices with
technology to determine which unused channels are available and
address broadcasters’ concerns about potential interference.

Towns and cities in Virginia, North Carolina and California
have been testing sites and are using white space broadband to
connect schools, provide public “hot spots,” test water quality
and monitor electricity consumption.

“Transmissions using white spaces frequencies can attain a
greater range for the same power — or the same range with
lower power consumption — than existing higher frequency
unlicensed bands,” the industry group wrote.
(Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Gary Hill)

U.S. seeks to tap unused airwaves for super WiFi