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.