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Wilmington Tests WiFi in White Spaces - Broadcasting & Cable

Wilmington Tests WiFi in White Spaces

Test bed for DTV transition becomes another testing ground for municipal network
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Related: Wilmington Pulls Plug on
Analog TV

Wilmington,
N.C., which served as a test bed
for the DTV transition when it was the first market to pull the plug on
analog
in September 2008, has become another testing ground.

City officials on Feb. 24 will officially take the wraps off
a test of a municipal WiFi network (it has been up and running for over a
month) using the so-called white spaces between those DTV channels. The
mayor
of the town, Bill Saffo, will give other mayors a look at the network,
which
Saffo thinks could be a big money-saver for the town.

The network is the handiwork of Spectrum Bridge
and TV Band Service. The latter comprises private investors and is
locally
based. The former, which is supplying the database to make sure the
network
does not interfere with TV stations in Wilmington, may be familiar to
followers
of the white spaces issue. Spectrum
Bridge has put its name
in the hat to be the FCC's database service provider when it comes up
with
final certification procedures for operating unlicensed devices in the
TV white
spaces.

The "smart city" network, as they have coined it,
will not be competing directly with the wireless carriers for subs, the
companies say, but will be demonstrating uses such as energy monitoring,
government services, and public safety. Those are the sorts of "national
purposes" uses of broadband the FCC will be promoting in its National
Broadband Plan, due to Congress next month.

According to Bill Seiz, test-bed manager for TV Band Service,
they have been running wireless cameras for traffic and general
surveillance in
a park and on a highway. They are using the white spaces for water level
and
quality testing, and supplying public WiFi to a park and school. He said
they
are using the network as backhaul to provide wireless hotspots.

They have an 18-month experimental license from the FCC (TV
Band Service holds the license), but said they expect to reevaluate the
test in
April, including doing some cost-benefit analysis and developing case
studies.

The test also allows Spectrum Bridge
to test its database and showcase it to the FCC and others. "We know
that
you learn a lot from real-world deployments," says Spectrum Bridge CMO
Rick Rotondo, "how it interacts with the [devices] and can it keep you
from interfering with other protected users." He says that so far there
have been "no interference issues," either in this test or an earlier
one in October in Virginia.

Saffo says his city spends about a million dollars a year to
light ball fields. "Having the opportunity for our parks director to be
able to monitor the fields so that when the last team plays their game,
they
can cut the lights off we think will save us a heck of a lot of money,"
he
says, adding that the network offers a "tremendous opportunity to
deliver
WiFi to underserved parts of the community."  

Given Wilmington's
place in history as the birthplace of the DTV transition, so to speak,
was he
concerned about the possible interference to TV stations?

"Yes, there has always been that concern," Saffo says.
"Obviously these people have been in our community a long time and
provide a
public service. So, whatever we are going to do in the experimental
phase, we
don't want to hurt them."

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