Wilmington NC: Guinea Pig Again

If you’ve never been to Wilmington, NC, you should plan a trip because it’s a wonderful town close great ocean beaches with lots to do. And now there’s something new to do there: connect to the Internet using “white space” wireless connections.

This is a “Smart City” experiment coordinated by TV Band Service of Wilmington and Spectrum Bridge of Lake Mary, FL. “White space” is the buffer zone of radio spectrum frequency left between TV channels by the FCC to avoid interference. In this test, it will be used to provide a wireless network for the city. Some of the devices on the network will be for government agency use, such as traffic cameras, wetland monitoring, medical telemetry, and improved broadband service for public schools. It also will be used to connect public access WiFi hotspots in places such as public parks.

The use of white space frequencies has been controversial, as TV broadcasters worry that it may interfere with their stations’ signals. The FCC decided in November 2008, however, to let this portion of the spectrum to be used. The signals have a longer reach than those used by WiFi, so the FCC has limited their power to 1 watt for fixed installations and 500 mW for mobile stations. The devices also have to monitor the spectrum for other transmissions before they start to send a signal, to avoid interfering with TV signals.

If this works, it will make it easier to develop city-wide WiFi systems because they won’t need to run cable everywhere. It is interesting to note that this is the second time that Wilmington, NC has been tapped for an experiment in wireless connections. The city was also picked to make the transition from analog to digital television broadcasts back in September 2008, nine months before the rest of the nation switched in June 2009.