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Better than TV! White spaces bring wireless bonanza to West Virginia

John Cox | Jan. 23, 2014
A white spaces network at West Virginia University is the first step in piggybacking Wi-Fi clients onto a bonanza of new spectrum that's ideal for mobile users.

"Twelve channels of 6 megahertz yields 72 megahertz, which is comparable to a 4G provider's network," says Robert Nichols, CEO of Declaration Networks, a white spaces network integrator based in Alexandria, Va., and the man who launched the Air.U project. The result is a bonanza of new spectrum, especially in rural areas. Even metro areas with lots of TV broadcasting where stations will reap additional spectrum.

The IEEE 802.22 Working Group, has already published standards for Wireless Regional Area Networks (WRAN), aimed at this unused spectrum worldwide, seeing it as a key to bringing broadband to vast areas, and populations that have little, if any, connectivity today.

Simple networks promise quick adoption
WVU is one of the latest global pilots for white space networks. Based on the experience there, such networks could quickly blossom and expand, largely by allowing conventional Wi-Fi links to, in effect, piggyback on white space connections. Air.U launched a "quick start" program aimed at higher education, offering a range of services to let institutions quickly roll out a white spaces network.

The heart of WVU's white spaces network is the Adaptrum base station radio, on the rooftop of the Engineering Sciences Building near the center of Morgantown. With it, are the accompanying directional antennas, cabling, power supply, performance and availability monitoring equipment, switching facility, and interconnections for back-haul through WVU's backbone to the Internet. There are five Adaptrum client radios, one for each PRT station, along with their own antennas, an Ethernet connection with one or more off-the-shelf Cisco Wi-Fi access points.

Because of the proximity of other TV signals, all white spaces radios in the U.S. link with one or another FCC-certified "white spaces database," of which there are several including one from Google. The radio has to "call home" daily to the continuously updated database, report its location, and receive the current list of protected channels those occupied by TV stations or wireless microphones and available channels.

The FCC certifies radios to work with specific databases. Earlier this month, Carlson Wireless Technologies of Sunnyvale announced its RuralConnect white space radio system had won FCC certification for use with the database maintained by Spectrum Bridge

Campbell says the actual deployment of all the gear was "pretty straightforward." "The biggest challenge was getting the internal approvals to install it on the roof," he recalls. "And we had to get power to the roof along with a network connection." The initial network went live last summer, with students gaining access in August as they returned for the new academic year.

The entire network is transparent to end users: they simply use Wi-Fi to create a connection for laptops, smartphones, tablets and the like. The Adaptrum client radio makes the necessary conversions on its end, and sends the packets over the TV band to the basestation, which then does its own conversion magic, and connects with a router into the WVU network and through there to the Internet.


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