We could create free, high-capacity Internet access using old television frequencies, new research suggests.
Two academics are recommending that governments develop free, public Wi-Fi networks using obsolete TV frequencies. The researchers believe this could potentially lead to "Super Wi-Fi" systems popping up across the globe.
Broadcasting TV via old-school frequencies received through antennas has almost entirely given way to digital services, leaving blank channels or "white spaces"—TV frequencies that are no longer in use. In a new study, researchers suggest transforming these abandoned frequencies into a "wireless commons." Distributing public Wi-Fi through underused TV infrastructure, they say, has many potential benefits: Wi-Fi traveling through antenna and radio frequencies can extend beyond six miles, according to a recent report. Moreover, it may have the capacity to penetrate through walls, buildings, vegetation, and other obstacles that often disrupt current Wi-Fi infrastructure. This range, coupled with public access, could result in "unprecedented low-cost," the new study suggests, because 3G and household wireless services would likely be less in demand.
"Individuals, institutions, and companies would be far less dependent on expensive mobile communications networks in conducting their digital communication," says Arnd Weber of Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and a co-author of the new report.
The proposal comes at a time of rapidly declining interest in television in general. A 2013 survey by The New York Times found that one-third of Millennials watch television broadcasts and videos mostly online. And even among the shrinking number of Americans that do regularly watch TV, almost no one uses antenna-based infrastructure: Cable and satellite services were estimated to account for 94 percent of TV broadcasts in the U.S in 2013. It's hard to imagine staticky old antenna-level frequencies having any major role in the future of TV production.
Yet for our smartphones, tablets, and laptops, they might still have some value.