First Commercial White-Fi Network Launched

WILMINGTON, N.C.: The first commercially available white-space broadband network is launching today in New Hanover County, N.C. The municipality is lighting up the network at 2 p.m. EST. The event represents the first time the public has access to a commercial broadband network carried on TV band frequencies not occupied by TV signals.

The initial applications of Hanover network will include “video security surveillance” and public “Internet access in local parks,” according to Spectrum Bridge of Lake Mary, Fla. The company is managing a spectrum database for the network. Last month, it became the first of 10 applicants approved by the Federal Communications Commission to manage a database of white spaces. The database is supposed to dynamically track all occupied and unoccupied frequencies in the TV band, and all devices are supposed to check the database periodically to prevent interference with TV signals.

The device being used in the Hanover network is a last-mile, fixed white-space transmitter from KTS Wireless, also in Lake Mary. The company’s Agility White Space Radio received FCC approval Dec. 26, making it the first unlicensed transmitter allowed to operate in the TV band. The AWSR operates on all TV channels (174-216 MHz and 470-698 MHz), as well as in the unlicensed 900 MHz frequencies--at data rates from 1.5 to 3.1 MBps. The Hanover launch marks the inauguration of the AWSR, which will provide the Internet access in public parks.

Today’s launch also marks the debut of a White-Fi chipset that could one day be used in handsets. InterDigital of King of Prussia, Pa., is collaborating with Spectrum Bridge on the latter is calling “spectrum-harvesting technology.” The chipset is said to extend “legacy systems such as Wi-Fi and cellular into under-utilized frequency bands.”

The FCC started crafting rules to allow unlicensed devices in the TV band in 2007. The final order was issued in September of 2010 and went into effect in January of 2011. Nine more companies, including Google and Microsoft, are being vetted by the FCC to manage white-space databases. Each will be required to conduct a 45-day trial with the FCC to ensure its database protects incumbent TV broadcasters. Telecordia Technologies of Piscataway, N.J., was the second company, after Spectrum Bridge, to enter into the trial phase, which concluded for it last Friday. If approved, Telecordia will become the second white-space database provider in the nation.

Wilmington, the New Hanover County seat, was one of the first testbeds for Spectrum Bridge’s White-Fi efforts nearly two years ago, when the company launched a combined-usage network using white spaces for backhaul, under and 18-month experimental license from the FCC. Wilmington was targeted for White-Fi tests in part because it was the first to complete the digital TV transition in 2008, freeing up spectrum for broadband. The Wilmington test followed the trial of a limited municipal White-Fi network in Claudville, Va. in October of 2009. Spectrum Bridge designed the network and provided the white-space database for the Claudville project.
~Deborah D. McAdams