Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler began his tenure by correctly noting, “Unlicensed spectrum has been and must continue to be the catalyst for innovation.” With wireless traffic projected to increase 87 times in five years, we will increasingly depend on unlicensed spectrum to grow the mobile economy. Not only does unlicensed contain greater capacity—the capacity of Wi-Fi networks is 28 times greater than that of 3G and 4G networks—unlicensed enables huge savings. Wi-Fi off-load, projected to soon carry 60-80% of the traffic, will enable over 200 billion euros in annual savings for carriers in Europe alone.
One promising area for unlicensed services is unused television channels, known as “White Spaces.” White Spaces development, however, has been hampered by a chicken and egg problem. Without clarity about demand, manufacturers won’t devote the resources necessary to lower equipment costs; without costs coming down, demand will not be sufficient.
Several years ago we joined forces—Michael as an advocate for allocating White Spaces for unlicensed use, Blair from the direction of providing the high bandwidth networks rural college towns need and often don’t have—to create AIR.U, a project dedicated to using White Spaces to accelerate the deployment of next generation broadband networks in rural areas. AIR.U is a collaboration with the Declaration Networks Group and various Higher Education Groups, including the United Negro College Fund, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California, the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, and Gig.U, as well as Google, Microsoft and the Appalachian Regional Commission.
We’ve made progress in addressing the chicken and egg issue, including the first AIR.U network deployment on the West Virginia University (WVU) campus, providing wireless access to the Internet at WVU’s Personal Rapid Transit platforms. Senator Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, noted, “The lessons learned from this pilot project will be important as Congress continues to look for ways to expand broadband.”
Now it’s time for another step forward. Last month, Declaration Networks Group announced a “Quick Start” Network Program tailored for Higher Education communities to evaluate, design, and deploy high capacity broadband networks leveraging White Spaces. The program includes an assessment of expansion approaches and a sustainable path to increase the coverage and capacity of high-speed wireless connectivity to the community.
The program is offered exclusively to the AIR.U institutions. It includes a network with a base configuration supporting multiple Wi-Fi hotspots, and a user group for AIR.U Quick Start participants to collaborate in developing White Space technology, establish best practices, and share approaches for community expansion activities.
We believe this partnership between rural college communities and white spaces networks is the beginning of beautiful friendship, catalyzing more extensive deployments, and accelerating economic and educational development throughout the United States.