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October 17, 2010 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Super WiFi - "How the FCC paved the way for the next generation of wireless innovations."
...the FCC adopted a regulation (PDF) that could dramatically improve our wireless devices. The rule offered a brand new and much-improved slice of the radio space for unlicensed use. The new frequencies are known as "white spaces" — the waves that were freed up when TV channels switched from analog to digital transmission last year — and unlike the garbage band, they're considered prime real estate. Radio waves on white-space frequencies can travel for miles, they're much better at penetrating walls and buildings, and they're capable of carrying lots of data.

Tech observers say the new rules will lead to a new class of wireless devices known as "Super Wi-Fi." These new routers will be able to broadcast over very large areas — you could use a single device to bring Internet connections to an entire university campus, apartment building, or hospital. Anyone who's ever fiddled with a balky router will welcome these new devices. But Super Wi-Fi isn't the most interesting thing about this rule. The best part about the new spectrum is ... well, we don't know what the best part will be.
BONUS
-FCC White Space Rules Favor Tech Industry
-New FCC white space rules: inside the Satanic details
-Test networks offer glimpses of "white space" future
-FCC Commish: No need for net neutrality; we have white spaces!
-House Democrats Shelve Net Neutrality Proposal

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that is all :P
posted by kliuless (39 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
What an insanely overcomplicated hocked up mess.
posted by localroger at 7:15 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could this theoretically help create small wireless ISPs to compete with the cable/DSL providers? If so, I'm all for it.
posted by deliquescent at 7:25 AM on October 17, 2010


But won't the use of more penetrating frequencies by unlicensed, ungoverned private individuals lead to a "Wild West" scenario, where none of my stuff works because the 5 apartments that abut mine are all trying to use those same frequencies? Or worse, mightn't large companies use them at a higher power level for longer-distance communication, making them unusable for the rest of us across many square miles of area?
posted by Xezlec at 7:32 AM on October 17, 2010


Nah, with digital, it's not hard to share frequencies.
posted by empath at 7:36 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could this theoretically help create small wireless ISPs to compete with the cable/DSL providers? If so, I'm all for it.

Doubtful. More like the DSL providers will start offering wireless. I work for a CLEC and our biggest expense is leasing lines from Verizon etc for last mile connectivity. Our profits would go through the roof if we could just set up wifi antennas everywhere.
posted by empath at 7:38 AM on October 17, 2010


-That New Super WiFi? What’s in It For You?
-super wif?
posted by kliuless at 7:42 AM on October 17, 2010


It's too early on a Sunday morning for me to make sense of this, but I'm going to have to pass it on to my husband, who works for AT&T's wireless group, to see what he thinks. Here's hoping it'll finally convince him to get a Metafilter account to comment.
posted by immlass at 7:43 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nah, with digital, it's not hard to share frequencies.

Not sure what you mean. If I and my neighbor are both trying to use the band, what arbitrator decides who gets to use it and how much? And what's to stop one side from gaming the system to get more bandwidth? I could sell a line of routers that deliberately overpower the other guys and grab as much spectrum as much of the time as possible. Tell me those ISP companies setting up antennas everywhere won't do exactly this so that they can advertise faster internet speed than their competitors.
posted by Xezlec at 7:44 AM on October 17, 2010


Xezlec, the insanely overcomplicated hocked up mess I mentioned in FP is supposed to prevent that. In practice, I doubt it will work very well. The problem is that while DTV freed up a lot of spectrum, it didn't free it up all in the same band everywhere; the TV spectrum is a patchwork of regional signals positioned so that none are too close to one another. Even though the new channels are narrower than the old ones they weren't moved wholesale to create a new clean band; instead, you might have channel 35 in use in one area but 37 is free, while on the other side of the mountain range 37 is in use but 35 is free. Indeed, historically one of the first requirements for getting a license for a new TV station has been a test for potential signal interference should you get your license, and quite a bit of effort was taken to avoid strong signals on adjacent channels.

That latter requirement is no longer of such concern and that's where a lot of the white space is coming from, but you still don't have a single new clear band all across the nation. And while the licensing requirement works for large expensive fixed installations like TV stations which don't move around and can make the investment to prove they won't interfere, it's not so easy for small possibly mobile inexpensive devices. Thus, the geolocation requirement, which requires those devices to call in to a database based on their GPS coordinates to determine what channels are safe for use.

Which is, for a lot of reasons, just about one of the stupidest ideas I've ever encountered in radioland.
posted by localroger at 7:45 AM on October 17, 2010


Said hocked-up mess makes it illegal for me to compete with a TV station or for an individual device to use too much power, etc. So? If I'm a big ISP company, I simply use 100 separate "devices" all in a little neighborhood grid. Now I rule all the whitespace channels at every location in the neighborhood. Who's gonna say I can't do that? Then do the rules change to prohibit "individual entities" from using more than yadda yadda? Fine, then I split myself up into 100 separate spectrum-occupying companies...

That's what I meant about "gaming the system."
posted by Xezlec at 8:12 AM on October 17, 2010


And remember, folks, when Google sat down with Verizon and came up with their little plan for faux net neutrality, they made sure to write it all so that it would be WIRELINE internet that the regulations speak about, and not wireless.
“The agreement between Verizon and Google about how to manage Internet traffic is nothing more than a private agreement between two corporate behemoths, and should not be a template or basis for either Congressional or FCC action,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. ”It is unenforceable, and does almost nothing to preserve an open internet. Most critically, it sacrifices the future of the mobile wireless internet as this platform becomes more central to the lives of all Americans.”*
Just two little companies trying to game the system ahead of the whitespace wireless standards which they both knew were in the works at the FCC.
posted by hippybear at 8:26 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Xezlec, I suspect the FCC's attitude toward individual players in the new market is to pat everyone on the head and tell them to play nice and don't bother us as long as the existing services aren't affected, just as regular wifi devices have to put up with interference from each other and other services. However, wifi is so short-range that the tragedy of the commons advantages of hogging all the bandwidth aren't very great. With whitefi that experience may not scale.

The original FCC rule which was changed (to much happy dancing in the tech industry) would have required legal whitefi devices to do their own mini site-survey at intervals, which would have pretty much required outright violating the standards to hog all the bandwidth, since interference would be detected from both fixed and mobile devices in real time. But the geolocation requirement is supposed to stand in for this, since most of the "important" services are fixed and don't move much, and anarchy for the little guys has worked so well at 2 GHz.

(Incidentally, 2 GHz became the high bandwidth part 15 band because a big chunk of spectrum had been set aside for microwave ovens. That band was set aside for microwaves because it is absorbed by water more efficiently than any of the other frequencies considered. And that's why both wifi and satellite TV tend to stop working when it rains too hard. Also, it's not unusual for home wifi to stop working when the microwave oven is in use.)
posted by localroger at 8:34 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Setting up new antennas isn't always as easy as paying someone to rent their hilltop or roof space. Local review agencies (city and county planning and building departments) will be envolved as they are with wireless antenna placement. Maybe these frequencies won't be so dependant on line-of-sight, but there will still be concerns of visual impacts, getting power and data lines to the rural locations, etc. New antennas will go up, just like wireless coverage is expanding, but it'll take time.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:34 AM on October 17, 2010


And I didn't think that "Garbage" band was all bad. They had a few good songs some years back.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:36 AM on October 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Whitefi!" New word! Thank you!
posted by mwhybark at 8:47 AM on October 17, 2010


localroger: "2 GHz became the high bandwidth part 15 band because a big chunk of spectrum had been set aside for microwave ovens. That band was set aside for microwaves because it is absorbed by water more efficiently than any of the other frequencies considered. And that's why both wifi and satellite TV tend to stop working when it rains too hard."

And a persistent mystery of mod-ren life now solved!
posted by mwhybark at 8:49 AM on October 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Xezlec wrote: "Said hocked-up mess makes it illegal for me to compete with a TV station or for an individual device to use too much power, etc. So? If I'm a big ISP company, I simply use 100 separate "devices" all in a little neighborhood grid. Now I rule all the whitespace channels at every location in the neighborhood. Who's gonna say I can't do that? Then do the rules change to prohibit "individual entities" from using more than yadda yadda? Fine, then I split myself up into 100 separate spectrum-occupying companies...

That's what I meant about "gaming the system."
"

If you're a business, you probably wouldn't want to risk the large fine that would come with illegally modifying a white spaces device to have it not follow whatever contention rules are in place.

People say that there's no enforcement in 2.4 or 5GHz, but there is. People have gotten fined for exceeding EIRP limits, not using DFS (on 5GHz), and other things. It's complaint-driven, of course, but there is some enforcement of the rules.
posted by wierdo at 8:52 AM on October 17, 2010


Also, DBS isn't remotely near the 2.4GHz ISM band. It's up at 12-ish GHz or so. However, those higher frequencies are indeed subject to significant rain fade, unlike sub-1GHz stuff.
posted by wierdo at 8:58 AM on October 17, 2010


Thus, the geolocation requirement, which requires those devices to call in to a database based on their GPS coordinates to determine what channels are safe for use.

What a bizarre solution. Why not just have the device first listen to a given channel and determine if it's being used by a TV station or not? It doesn't seem unreasonable to assume that a given channel is going to be broadcasting 24/7, and if it isn't broadcasting, who cares?

The GPS solution really doesn't make sense. Half the point of using this spectrum is that it penetrates walls and the like, but GPS signals notoriously don't. Are these devices really going to be constrained to being placed near windows or otherwise in view of the sky?
posted by jedicus at 9:04 AM on October 17, 2010


MetaFilter: Much better at penetrating walls and buildings.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:28 AM on October 17, 2010


Something about the geolocation/central database solution rubs me the wrong way. Is that really the best solution we can reach?
posted by polyhedron at 9:31 AM on October 17, 2010


But won't the use of more penetrating frequencies by unlicensed, ungoverned private individuals lead to a "Wild West" scenario, where none of my stuff works because the 5 apartments that abut mine are all trying to use those same frequencies?
Did that happen with wifi? No. There are tons of other devices (including microwave ovens) that use that frequency range. And it works out fine. But the whitespaces thing is going to have a larger reach.
posted by delmoi at 9:33 AM on October 17, 2010


That said, with digital and computer technology it should be easier for radio devices to negotiate with eachother and share bandwidth, the way cellphones and wifi routers do today. Maybe the best thing to do would be to simply free all wireless spectrum and give up on wireless broadcast.
posted by delmoi at 9:36 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did that happen with wifi? No. There are tons of other devices (including microwave ovens) that use that frequency range.

If significant amounts of RF are leaking out of your microwave then you have bigger problems than interference with your WiFi. The point stands with regard to other devices like cordless phones, though.
posted by jedicus at 9:42 AM on October 17, 2010


delmoi: I think you're missing my point. I'm not saying it's difficult to build devices that can negotiate and avoid stepping on each other. I'm saying since there is no arbiter to decide who should rightfully get how much of the available bandwidth in an area, anyone can snap up as much as they want, and whoever buys the most devices wins.

Cell phones work because cell phone companies govern the use of that space. The company is the arbiter, and divides the space among customers equitably. Wifi routers are ungoverned, but don't interfere too badly because of walls and such. The new space has neither of those things going for it.
posted by Xezlec at 9:49 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


jedicus wrote: "It doesn't seem unreasonable to assume that a given channel is going to be broadcasting 24/7, and if it isn't broadcasting, who cares?"

Out here in flyover country, there are a lot of stations that don't run their transmitters after midnight. Sometimes they're left on autopilot for cable subscribers, since the incremental cost to do that is essentially zero. Moreover, things like wireless mics and other licensed users of the spectrum aren't necessarily constantly transmitting.

I do agree, however, that occasionally listening for licensed transmissions and changing channels if heard would be a fine way to solve the problem. It already works with 802.11a sharing parts of the 5GHz band with radar. Of course, those guys can pretty much immediately detect and pinpoint the location of a transmitter with DFS disabled.
posted by wierdo at 9:59 AM on October 17, 2010


immlass: It would be interesting to hear the opinion of someone who works with these issues. If he doesn't want to join up and post, maybe he could use your account?
posted by JHarris at 10:56 AM on October 17, 2010


I'm saying since there is no arbiter to decide who should rightfully get how much of the available bandwidth in an area, anyone can snap up as much as they want, and whoever buys the most devices wins.

Yes, there are arbiters, and there are standards, just as there is with anything in technology. And companies that don't abide by the standards will face repercussions from their peers and from their customers, and from the FCC.
posted by empath at 1:13 PM on October 17, 2010


Would you prefer to have to buy a license for these devices? Because that's the alternative to the Wild West.
posted by empath at 1:16 PM on October 17, 2010


jedicus, your solution (listen first, then use) was in fact what the FCC wanted at first. In fact, they wanted such monitoring at fairly frequent intervals even during use of a channel. But the tech companies didn't want to spend the money and time developing the tech, when the GPS+software thing was something that could be deployed immediately and with very little R&D.
posted by localroger at 1:17 PM on October 17, 2010


To be specific -- "Listen for wireless mics and tv stations first", not other digital devices. Because digital devices can share bandwidth.

Honestly, if we opened up 100% of the spectrum to digital devices, we wouldn't even be talking about this. We could carry cell phones, radio, tv, everything digitally over wireless and have plenty of bandwidth left over for everyone else to do whatever they want.
posted by empath at 1:20 PM on October 17, 2010


jedicus, your solution (listen first, then use) was in fact what the FCC wanted at first...But the tech companies didn't want to spend the money and time developing the tech, when the GPS+software thing was something that could be deployed immediately and with very little R&D.

Well, damn. I hope there's some sliver of a possibility that future devices will be able to use the more sensible approach.
posted by jedicus at 1:35 PM on October 17, 2010


empath: I'm not saying there are not standards and I'm not saying there are not rules. I'm saying the communications link in question has no centralized management and therefore the bandwidth on it may not end up allocated in a way that is fair to most people. It's like if you tried to have cable modems without a governor (operated by the cable company) on them. One nerd with a dozen BitTorrent downloads would hog all the bandwidth and ordinary people in the neighborhood would get crazy slow speeds. That is essentially the situation I see here: there is nothing I can see that will keep "power users" from crowding out everyone else, because there is nothing to limit individual usage and even to decide who counts as an "individual user".

If there are arbiters as you say, what are they? What device serves as the arbiter? And who operates it?

I'm running out of ways to rephrase. I hate words.
posted by Xezlec at 1:48 PM on October 17, 2010


It's like if you tried to have cable modems without a governor (operated by the cable company) on them. One nerd with a dozen BitTorrent downloads would hog all the bandwidth and ordinary people in the neighborhood would get crazy slow speeds.

You mean exactly the way it is now.

There is no centralized control over the internet. There is no central arbiter that governs the internet. There are standards, and there are regulators, but it's very loose-y goose-y and it's not that hard for one operator to completely fuck up the internet for a period of time before the other ISP's cut them off (for example, when Pakistan took down youtube.)

Believe it or not, it is really not difficult to create a standard where all devices can share wireless bandwidth equally without anybody 'hogging it'. I live in an apartment complex in a small city, so I've got 25 wireless networks in range of my PC right now, and all of them work just fine.

There are problems associated with high power networks, to be sure, but there's also even more bandwidth available in this range than there is in the 2.4ghz range.
posted by empath at 3:34 PM on October 17, 2010


Minneapolis has US Internet, a small wireless ISP that uses unlicensed regular WiFi (with many many repeaters on telephone poles throughout the city). I regularly get 5 mbps up and down for $25 a month. I'm worried that big national companies with allocated spectrum will drive them out of business then raise the price....
posted by miyabo at 3:52 PM on October 17, 2010


They are not allocating spectrum. That is the point.
posted by empath at 3:54 PM on October 17, 2010


Nah, with digital, it's not hard to share frequencies.

I see lots of problems caused by two strong wifi networks both trying to use the same channel.
posted by Chuckles at 7:45 PM on October 17, 2010


This is all about the FCC / USA which makes me wonder why isn't there already Super Wi-Fi in other countries? Or do many (or most large) countries impose the similar restrictions on WiFi / public use of the EM spectrum?

Wikipedia seems to suggest that there are differences but they are not that great:

Spectrum assignments and operational limitations do not operate consistently worldwide. Most of Europe allows for an additional 2 channels beyond those permitted in the U.S. for the 2.4 GHz band. (1–13 vs. 1–11); Japan has one more on top of that (1–14). Europe, as of 2007[update], was essentially homogeneous in this respect. A very confusing aspect is the fact that a Wi-Fi signal actually occupies five channels in the 2.4 GHz band resulting in only three non-overlapped channels in the U.S.: 1, 6, 11, and three or four in Europe: 1, 5, 9, 13. Equivalent isotropically radiated power (EIRP) in the EU is limited to 20 dBm (100 mW).
posted by mary8nne at 4:27 AM on October 19, 2010


I'm not worried about the frequencies, radiation or any of the mentioned above. Just like millions of others I am logged on all the time. Whether it's with my iPhone (now my iPad) or my home or office PC, I am probably online for 90% of my day. So if the FCC has paved the way for the next generation of wireless innovations. It's all good as far as I'm concerned.

Like I said there are millions of people sending emails, doing business and even playing games as they walk down the street or while waiting for a bus.

I'm ready for "Super WiFi", how about you?
posted by Michelle Stevens at 6:15 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


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