West Virginia University became the first university in the United States to use vacant broadcast TV channels to provide the campus and nearby areas with wireless broadband Internet services.
The university has partnered with AIR.U, the Advanced Internet Regions consortium, to transform the "TV white spaces" frequencies left empty when television stations moved to digital broadcasting into much-needed connectivity for students and the surrounding community.
The initial phase of the network provides free public Wi-Fi access for students and faculty at the Public Rapid Transit platforms, a 73-car tram system that transports more than 15,000 riders daily.
"Not only does the AIR.U deployment improve wireless connectivity for the PRT System, but also demonstrates the real potential of innovation and new technologies to deliver broadband coverage and capacity to rural areas and small towns to drive economic development and quality of life, and to compete with the rest of the world in the knowledge economy," said WVU Chief Information Officer John Campbell.
"This may well offer a solution for the many West Virginia communities where broadband access continues to be an issue," Campbell said, "and we are pleased to be able to be a test site for a solution that may benefit thousands of West Virginians."
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Sen. Jay Rockefeller, said, "As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, I have made promoting high-speed Internet deployment throughout West Virginia, and around the nation, a priority. That is why I am excited by today's announcement of the new innovative wireless broadband initiative on West Virginia University's campus.
"Wireless broadband is an important part of bringing the economic, educational, and social benefits of broadband to all Americans," he said.
"My Public Safety Spectrum legislation, which the president signed into law last year, helped to preserve and promote innovative wireless services," Rockefeller said. "The lessons learned from this pilot project will be important as Congress continues to look for ways to expand broadband access and advance smart spectrum policy."
The network deployment is managed by AIR.U co-founder Declaration Networks Group LLC and represents a collaboration between AIR.U and the WVU Board of Governors; the West Virginia Network for Telecomputing, which provides the fiber optic Internet backhaul for the network; and Adaptrum Inc., a California start-up providing white space equipment designed to operate on vacant TV channels. AIR.U is affiliated with the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. Microsoft and Google both provided early support for AIR.U's overall effort to spur innovation to upgrade the broadband available to underserved campuses and their surrounding communities.
"WVNET is proud to partner with AIR.U and WVU on this exciting new wireless broadband opportunity," WVNET Director Judge Dan O'Hanlon said. "We are very pleased with this early success and look forward to expanding this last-mile wireless solution all across West Virginia." O'Hanlon also serves as chairman of the West Virginia Broadband Council.
Because the unique propagation characteristics of TV band spectrum enables networks to broadcast Wi-Fi connections over several miles and over hilly and forested terrain, the Federal Communications Commission describes unlicensed access to vacant TV channels as enabling "Super Wi-Fi" services. For example, WVU can add additional Wi-Fi hotspots in other locations around campus where students congregate or lack connectivity today. Future applications include public Wi-Fi access on the PRT cars and machine-to-machine wireless data links supporting control functions of the PRT System.
AIR.U's initial deployment, blanketing the WVU campus with Wi-Fi connectivity, demonstrates the equipment capabilities, the system throughput and performance of TV band frequencies to support broadband Internet applications. AIR.U intends to facilitate additional college community and rural broadband deployments in the future.
"The innovative WVU network demonstrates why it is critical that the FCC allows companies and communities to use vacant TV channel spectrum on an unlicensed basis," said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation. "We expect that hundreds of rural and small town colleges and surrounding communities will soon take advantage of this very cost-effective technology to extend fast and affordable broadband connections where they are lacking."
"Microsoft was built on the idea that technology should be accessible and affordable to everyone, and today access to a broadband connection is becoming increasingly important." said Paul Mitchell, general manager/technology policy, at Microsoft. "White spaces technology and efficient spectrum management have a huge potential for expanding affordable broadband access in underserved areas and we are pleased to be partnering with AIR.U and West Virginia University on this new launch."
The AIR.U consortium includes organizations that represent over 500 colleges and universities nationwide, and includes 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, a consortium of 37 major universities.
"We are delighted that AIR.U was born out of the Gig.U effort," said Blair Levin, executive director of Gig.U and former executive director of the National Broadband Plan. "The communities that are home to our research universities and colleges across the country need next generation speeds to compete in the global economy and we firmly believe this effort can be a model for other communities."
Founding partners of AIR.U include Microsoft, Google, the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and Declaration Networks Group, LLC, a new firm established to plan, deploy and operate Super Wi-Fi networks.
"Super Wi-Fi presents a lower-cost, scalable approach to deliver high capacity wireless networks, and DNG is leading the way for a new broadband alternative to provide sustainable models that can be replicated and extended to towns and cities nationwide," stated Bob Nichols, CEO of Declaration Networks Group, LLC and AIR.U co-founder.
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The Wireless Innovation Alliance (WIA) is a broad-based group of innovators, providers, consumer groups, think tanks and education organizations that believe that more efficient use and expanded access to the nation’s spectrum resources are fundamental to the future of U.S. economic policy and global competitiveness, and that we face potential spectrum scarcities in both licensed and unlicensed bands that must be addressed in order for innovation and investment to move forward.