Muni Wireless Gets a White Spaces Boost

Mari Silbey —  January 26, 2012

Thought municipal wireless was dead? Yeah, me too. But apparently that’s not the case. The city of Wilmington North Carolina is  launching the world’s first white spaces wireless network today built on spectrum available between broadcast TV frequencies already in use. The technology enables Wi-Fi connectivity in public spots around Wilmington, and, after today’s launch, that Wi-Fi access will be available for free to local users. Don’t get too jealous, though. Speeds are set to max out between one and two megabits per second.

The fact that the new Wilmington network is coming online for free is partly a result of broadband regulatory battles. White spaces technology is still hotly contested because of concerns around signal interference, and differing opinions surrounding how spectrum should be allocated. By remaining a non-commercial endeavor, however, the Wilmington initiative is able to avoid some of that white spaces controversy. The freebie network also keeps Wilmington well clear of other North Carolina legislation passed last year restricting community broadband efforts.

Does the Wilmington launch mean new life ahead for municipal wireless? I wouldn’t bet on it. Given the state of the economy, and lack of commercial incentive, it’s hard to see too many of these efforts getting off the ground any time soon. However, the Wilmington network could signal new life for white spaces broadband in general. Depending on how well the network performs, others might start to see white spaces as a viable broadband access alternative. Certainly the technology has some high-profile backers. Microsoft is pushing new innovations in white spaces and hoping to persuade regulators that it should be authorized for broader use. With a little real-world success and corporate cash, white spaces might just have a future ahead.

4 responses to Muni Wireless Gets a White Spaces Boost

  1. My mom’s community in Florida made a big local splash, saying they were going to offer “free” public WiFi. A year or two later, last fall, they changed their tune.

    “recently realized its $16 million wireless network doesn’t have enough capacity for public use. The city created it for wireless water meter reading and parking meter payment, but hoped to create a public network as a fringe benefit. It couldn’t. It turned out there weren’t enough places to set up transmitters without signal interference.”

    Oops. Suppose they didn’t get any of that money back from the contractors who pitched the plan.

  2. Just got more info from my mom… this is the same town that spent $680,000 to paint the water tower so it’d be more attractive to tourists and will have a $10 million budget shortfall this year, with $25mil expected next year. But let’s build out a wireless network we can’t complete! ;)

  3. And it’s a coastal town. Homeland Security will find something wrong with it…..

    More of Ross Perot’s Giant Sucking Sound……

  4. Interesting that by not charging they can bypass that cable-sponsored legislation.

    So you taxes still go to support muni broadband…