IMG_9540-e1441379215723-620x827I visited Seattle and the Space Needle back in the early ‘90s, and got to go watch tiles fall off the Kingdome. But the Kingdome is long gone now, and other things about Seattle have changed as well—such as the new “Super Wi-Fi” in the shadow of the Space Needle at Seattle Center.

GeekWire takes a detailed look at this new, Microsoft-sponsored Wi-Fi system, using the “white spaces” left in the spectrum when analog TV went off the air. While it’s not fully mature yet—most wireless devices don’t yet use the 802.11af standard, so the signal has to be translated into 802.11ac via repeater routers—when it is, it could reach up to 6 miles from the access points, penetrating buildings and bringing greater speed to Wi-Fi devices (though the article takes care to point out that not everyone will get that much faster speed, depending on how many people are using it).

It’s could be very interesting if that happens. Although cell towers in wide open areas have ranges on the order of 40 miles or more, in urban areas with buildings blocking the signal that drops to as little as several miles or less—which is basically the same sort of range the “Super Wi-Fi” system has, and it seems to be better at penetrating buildings, too.

Will this make existing 4G systems obsolete? It’s been known to happen. Karma, whose Karma Go LTE hotspot I’ve been enjoying for the last few weeks, made its first try at 4G broadband using Sprint’s WiMAX network—but WiMAX just didn’t work out. Sprint is turning it off, and as a result, Karma is sunsetting its original WiMAX routers. Existing users will have to upgrade to the new Karma Go, and while they’re getting a discount, they’re still going to have to pay as much as they paid for their original one.

But the difference here is, if next-generation computing devices get 802.11af built into them, they can get their longer-range connectivity direct from their Wi-Fi provider, rather than having to go through a cell phone company. Granted, this will only be possible in urban areas, since cell phone range is a lot longer in the country—but urban areas are where most of the people are. Of course, for city-wide range, there would have to be more than one Wi-Fi router in the city—but it could be a great option for cities wanting to offer municipal wireless. A router every few miles is a lot more appealing and less expensive than a router every half a block or so.


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