By Scott Woolley, Technology Review
Under government rules designed to protect local TV stations from harmful interference, high-power Super Wi-Fi signals (up to 4 watts), which can travel for miles, must give TV channels a wide berth. Low-power Super Wi-Fi signals (less than 40 milliwatts) face fewer restrictions. The result is that while there are 48 channels potentially available for long-range Super Wi-Fi, zero or one channel will be available for long-range use in the places most Americans live—so Super Wi-Fi networks significantly bigger than today’s home Wi-Fi networks won’t be practical. In rural areas, the longer-range systems could prove a boon, although even there, most of the spectrum will still be off-limits. The short-range devices will supplement existing Wi-Fi systems, which can sometimes run out of capacity when lots of people in one vicinity try to use them. Super Wi-Fi will benefit from using lower-frequency waves that travel farther and penetrate walls more easily, but those advantages will be reduced, if not completely offset, by the 40 milliwatt power limit. (Regular Wi-Fi can use up to 1 watt of power.) Ultimately, Congress could decide to loosen the limits on Super Wi-Fi—over the objections of TV broadcasters. According to the broadcasting industry, not even current limitations are stringent enough, which is why it has been fighting to block the white-space rules.
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