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Microsoft Launches Massive Wireless Hotspot

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Microsoft workers both in buildings and aboard a shuttle bus are testing a wireless hotspot from a steady web link in the hope of tapping into a potentially lucrative new market spurred by vacant airwaves previously reserved for television. The Federal Communications Commission is voting on Sept. 23 to expand the unlicensed airwaves, paving the way for high-powered Wi-Fi networks that would do away with the need to find a wireless hotspot.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski described the unlicensed airwaves as "very high-quality spectrum," and said the goal is to foster the development of a huge new industry.

Microsoft and other technology companies such as Google and Dell have pushed the FCC to change the rules surrounding Wi-Fi, opening the door for a whole new set of applications not yet on anyone's radar. Potential uses could include more seamless wireless internet connections and remote monitoring of power plants and healthcare devices.

The conversion of television signals from analog to digital generated unused bands of spectrum, since digital transmission requires less for each broadcast signal. These gaps in radio waves are known as white spaces. Since television signals are low-frequency they can travel farther, through walls, and over long distances, giving the new airwaves great appeal.

To equal the coverage Microsoft's white space system generates at its 500-acre Redmond, Wash. campus, thousands of Wi-Fi routers would be needed, the company said. To cover most of the campus, two transmitters were used when Genachowski toured the experimental "White-Fi" network last month, which uses TV white spaces spectrum.

In a filing Microsoft submitted to the FCC, the company said it has demonstrated the ability to access high-quality video content over medium-range distances, "which are difficult to achieve using unlicensed spectrum at higher frequencies," as one example of how white space spectrum enables innovative wireless broadband.

"White spaces technology could free new unlicensed radio frequencies for consumers in every community and generate investment in innovation, much as we observed with Wi-Fi," wrote Dan Reed, VP of technology strategy and policy at Microsoft, in a company blog. Deploying new communication technologies, he said, would "create opportunities to more efficiently manage congestion and offload capacity onto other spectrum bands to deliver higher quality, more robust services for government, business, and consumer use."

Also planning to take advantage of the vacant airwaves for wireless video and data traffic are Google, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and Sprint Nextel.