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New Hanover County, N.C., First in Nation to Deploy ‘Super Wi-Fi’ Network

For the first time nationwide, a “super Wi-Fi” network will operate in the white space spectrum.

What’s been marked as a first-in-the-nation launch, New Hanover County, N.C., will begin a phased deployment later this month of a “super Wi-Fi” network in the TV white space spectrum.
“We will be using this new technology to extend our networks outdoors into our parks and gardens to provide enhanced services to our citizens,” said county Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Jason Thompson, in a statement.

White space spectrums are created from the area of spectrum that’s left over between TV channels. When TV stations switch from an analog spectrum to digital, leftover spectrum remains, freeing up accessible space, said Leslie Chaney, the county’s IT director.

In 2010, the FCC freed up a block of the unlicensed white space spectrum and since then has implemented rules for its use.

According to the FCC, these vacant airwaves between channels are ideal for supporting wireless mobile devices. The FCC named the network “super Wi-Fi” because white spaces are lower frequency than regular Wi-Fi and, therefore, can travel longer distances.

New Hanover County is deploying the super Wi-Fi in three public parks, starting with a playground area at Hugh MacRae Park on Jan. 26, followed by Veterans Park and Airlie Gardens. Other locations in Wilmington, N.C. — located in the county — will also have access to the new network.

“As more and more people carry smartphones, tablets and things, we want to provide them some high-speed access like we do indoors now at our libraries,” Chaney said.

A facility at Hugh MacRae Park will serve as the hub of the network. White space radios will communicate from that hub to the parks. With this facility, the network can extend outdoors.

Chaney said mobile devices will be able to access the county’s white space network with equipment that’s already available on the marketplace. The white space spectrum comes with the added benefit of a signal that covers longer distances and doesn’t need a clear line of sight. Consequently a wireless access point can be installed in the park that’s several hundred yards away from the hub, Chaney explained. Even with trees in between the two facilities, the network is still clear.

Getting in the White

The FCC has assigned private companies a key role in assisting with deployment of super Wi-Fi.

“In order to make these devices work [in the white space], there have to be registrations or databases of available channels based on your location, and the FCC named some companies that would maintain those databases,” Chaney said. “One of our partners is a company called Spectrum Bridge, one of the certified database administrators for the FCC.”

In 2009, New Hanover County partnered with communication technology provider TV Band Service to test a wireless network. TVBS was permitted with an experimental license from the FCC for the testing. Spectrum Bridge is using radios from company KTS Wireless. In December 2011, the FCC certified Spectrum Bridge and KTS Wireless to provide commercial equipment for the county.

Currently New Hanover County is the only area in the U.S. that has been certified by the FCC to use the white space spectrum.

Chaney said New Hanover County was selected by the companies to trial test the network because in 2008, Wilmington, N.C., was the first community in the nation to switch from analog to digital TV. As a result, the community had a head start in getting the availability of the leftover white space.

Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.