Feature Article

February 06, 2013

Will 'Super Wi-Fi' Networks Provide the Public with Free Wireless Internet Access?

For some time now there’s been chatter about “Super Wi-Fi,” its capabilities and what it really is. In September 2012, we examined it in our Mobility TechZone section.

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made a proposal to provide free Wi-Fi access to everyone in the U.S.

This has been met with both praise and criticism. Jeffrey Silva, an analyst for Medley Global Advisors said "For a casual user of the Web, perhaps this could replace carrier service. Because it is more plentiful and there is no price tag, it could have a real appeal to some people."

Microsoft and Google endorse the FCC’s plan. Both companies believe easier access to public Wi-Fi would a benefit. The thought is that this type of plan would in turn create an outgrowth of new mobile devices that would take full advantage of free public Wi-Fi.

On the flip side, we have telecommunications companies who see this as a threat to the $178-billion wireless industry. This has led to some fierce lobbying in an effort to persuade policymakers to reconsider the idea.

The major telecommunication companies have been adding a lot of high-speed Internet customers lately. AT&T reported that wireless data revenue increased by 14.7 percent at the end of the fourth quarter. CenturyLink, the third-largest telecommunications company in the United States, reportedly added an additional 44,000 high-speed Internet users last year, giving it over 5.8 million subscribers.

 AT&T ended the year with 107 million wireless subscribers.

The airwaves that the FCC wants to hand over to the public are supposed to be much more powerful than current Wi-Fi networks. Technically, they would not be hampered by thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees.

If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas.

While it would be very nice to have free Wi-Fi in all the city parks and coffee houses, the real benefit would be to the rural areas in the U.S. Delivering reliable and affordable wireless infrastructure in rural areas and environments – where the usual wireless players simply do not reach, and generally appear to have no real interest in reaching – would be a key factor for the FCC’s proposal.

There are companies such as Carlson Wireless who have been trying to devise a solution to this problem. A key factor is having equipment that is both reliable and affordable. These are two seriously important factors and will take time to overcome.

Even if the proposal that the FCC put forth is approved, it would take several years to implement. Another factor to take into consideration is that there is no management system in place to handle the connections. While it could be a good benefit for rural areas, it may cause a lot of congestion in large cities.

These are all factors that should be discussed before coming to a decision.

Edited by Braden Becker

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