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By GCN Staff

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Large-scale pilot to get a read on Super Wi-Fi

The prospects for using an abandoned stretch of the TV spectrum to bring wireless service to rural areas will get an extensive test in the months ahead, as the Gigabit Libraries Network pilots Super Wi-Fi at public libraries in six states.

Super Wi-Fi uses unlicensed, low-frequency bands in the radio-frequency spectrum — called TV white space — that were opened up by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010 after TV broadcasters switched from analog to all-digital signals. The lower frequency limits throughput but greatly extends its range compared with established Wi-Fi signals, allowing signals that can go for several miles and pass through walls and buildings. It’s seen as a potential solution for bringing wireless service to underserved, mostly rural, areas.

GLN put out the call July 1 for libraries interested in forming a consortium for testing the technology and got submissions from more than 50 library systems, GLN said in an announcement. It accepted proposals from Delta County, Colo.; Pascagoula, Miss.; Stokie, Ill.; Humboldt County, Calif.; eight libraries in New Hampshire; and four locations in Kansas: Kansas City, Lawrence, Manhattan and Topeka/Shawnee.

The library systems will deploy Super Wi-Fi access points on e-bookmobiles and other publicly accessible places, GLN said. 

Libraries, as a traditional source of public information, are a logical place to test the technology. About 15,000 libraries around the country currently have Wi-Fi access, but their short-range signals require people to be on premises. And another 1,500 libraries have no wireless access at all. 

The national pilot, which grew out of a local initiative in Kansas City, will be “extremely important” in assessing Super Wi-Fi’s ability to help bridge the digital divide, Don Means, GLN coordinator, told Government Technology

Super Wi-Fi projects have been somewhat slow to develop since the FCC freed up the spectrum, but pilots began cropping up this year. In January, Wilmington, N.C., and its surrounding New Hanover County launched the first municipal Super Wi-Fi network. And in July, West Virginia University deployed the first such network on a university campus. 

Super Wi-Fi is not technically Wi-Fi, since it doesn’t conform to the set of IEEE 802.11 standards designated by the Wi-Fi Alliance as Wi-Fi, but it still functions on the same interoperable principles. GLN said the national pilot is an attempt to show how combining Wi-Fi compatibility with the far-reaching signals of the TV white spaces can deliver free wireless service.

Posted by GCN Staff on Sep 16, 2013 at 1:28 PM


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