West Virginia U. brings Super Wi-Fi to campus
The free "white spaces" network is the first of its kind on a U.S. campus, and it could lead to more rural deployments.
Super Wi-Fi systems, which became possible when TV stations abandoned analog for all-digital broadcasting, haven’t exactly taken the country by storm. But some public-sector organizations are starting to take advantage of the opportunity.
In January, Wilmington and New Hanover County in North Carolina launched the first municipal Super Wi-Fi, or “white spaces,” network. And this week, West Virginia University became the first university to deploy a Super Wi-Fi network on campus, providing free wireless access on its the Public Rapid Transit platforms, whose trams carry about 15,000 riders a day.
WVU worked with the AIR.U (Advanced Internet Regions University) consortium to build the network, which uses white spaces in the radio frequency spectrum left open by the TV broadcasting shift and freed up in 2010 by the Federal Communications Commission. WVU officials called the system a test site for Super Wi-Fi that could pave the way for bringing broadband connectivity to rural areas.
Rural and other areas that lack wireless broadband access are the target for the technology, which does have a somewhat misleading name. For one thing, it’s not really Wi-Fi, since it falls outside of the specific set of interoperable IEEE 802.11 standards designated as Wi-Fi and managed by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The alliance, in fact, has publicly objected to the term Super Wi-Fi.
However, because it operates in much lower frequencies than Wi-Fi, its signals can carry much farther and can reach further into buildings, allowing it to cover a much larger area, which makes it ideal for rural settings.
That’s the focus on AIR.U, which aims to bring wireless connectivity to rural campuses.
“Colleges in rural areas will be the greatest beneficiaries of Super Wi-Fi networks because they are located in communities that often lack sufficient broadband, their needs are greater and there is typically a large number of vacant TV channels outside the biggest urban markets,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “This combination of factors makes them ideal candidates for utilizing Super Wi-Fi spectrum to complement existing broadband capabilities.”
AIR.U is a New America initiative, whose founding partners also include Microsoft, Google, the Appalachian Regional Commission and Declaration Networks Group, an organization recently established to plan, deploy and operate Super Wi-Fi technologies.