Seattle Center pilot uses TV white space to deliver faster Wi-Fi

Seattle Center is using TV white space (TVWS) as part of a pilot project to see how the technology could be rolled out to city neighborhoods.

The new Wi-Fi network, which is being developed in partnership with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), will be able to serve 25,000 people simultaneously, according to a city press release. The new system enables users to browse at speeds more than 5,000 times faster than its previous network, enabling visitors to make Skype calls, back up photos and connect with events and vendors at Seattle Center.

Microsoft brought in a digital fiber line capable of transmitting multiple gigabits per second. Users can download a Microsoft Wi-Fi app that allows regular visitors to automatically connect to the platform at the highest possible speed.

The TV white space technology developed by Microsoft Research takes advantage of unused television channels. Television signals travel over longer distances and better penetrate walls and other obstacles, connecting access points throughout Seattle Center. The new system nearly quadruples the number of access points available to users, according to the Ballard News-Tribune.

TVWS proponents say the range is superior to Wi-Fi, especially in hilly terrain where ordinary Wi-Fi covers just a few thousand feet. "Super Wi-Fi" can cover an area up to five times larger. It also is well suited for rural areas because it can travel through trees and foliage.

One of the challenges of TVWS is it varies from town to town, although databases are designed to monitor the frequencies. Last month, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) filed an emergency petition to the FCC arguing that the databases that are supposed to map out the devices operating in TV white spaces are full of errors and inaccuracies. Currently, four companies operate white space databases: Telcordia, Spectrum Bridge, Key Bridge and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG).

Google and Microsoft have been among those pushing to use TVWS spectrum in the U.S. The FCC first proposed opening TV white spaces in 2009. The goal was to allow the use of unlicensed wireless transmissions in the TV broadcasting channels that were not being used, the so-called "white spaces" of the band. However, to ensure that those unlicensed transmissions didn't interfere with existing TV broadcasts, the FCC required devices working in the white spaces to register themselves with a TV white spaces database. Those databases are supposed to keep track of TV broadcasts and unlicensed operations and to prevent interference between the two. 

Google has conducted various pilot projects over the years, including one at the ZSL London Zoo that kicked off last year with the blessing of UK regulator Ofcom. Between October 2014 and February 2015, the ZSL London Zoo and Google ran a test of TVWS that involved transmitting live images of the otter, meerkat and Galapagos tortoise exhibits.

The experiment proved popular: The live feeds drew more than 260,000 individual views over YouTube. The live footage from each enclosure was transmitted using TVWS technology to a base station and then streamed live onto ZSL's YouTube channel.  

In the U.S., towns like Thurman, N.Y., are moving ahead with deployment plans. In late March, Thurman announced that it is deploying white space broadband to 90 homes in the 1,200-resident town via a $200,000 New York state broadband grant. The public-private network survived months of political wrangling, debate and even intentional signal interference created by someone intent on disrupting the project, according to the website Stop the Cap!.

For more:
- see this GCN article

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