Seattle delivers high-powered public Wi-Fi over TV ‘white spaces’

Wed, 2015-04-15 06:00 -- Doug Cooley

Seattle Center visitors may find the free Internet service at the popular park and entertainment venue more enchanting than the iconic Space Needle that towers over it.

With help from SCC Lead Partner Microsoft, the city of Seattle is piloting a new, high-powered Wi-Fi network at the Seattle Center. It enables users to browse the Internet at speeds more than 5,000 times faster than the old system and is robust enough to handle thousands of users at a time, even if they’re making Skype calls.

“This is another step forward in our work to seek out public-private partnerships to improve Internet access in Seattle,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray in a statement. “More than 12 million people visit Seattle Center each year, and now they will enjoy fast, free broadband on their devices.”

Dayne Sampson, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Engineering, says the network will  especially shine during big events at the center because it can handle more than 25,000 users at a time. “That’s a distinct difference from the free Wi-Fi often found in public places,” Sampson said.

Leveraging TV white space
The new Seattle Center network takes an unusual approach to delivering broadband connectivity. Microsoft is transmitting wireless data over TV "white spaces," part of the broadcasting spectrum that most of us recognize as the static-ridden channels found on yesteryear's television screens.

Broadband delivered over TV white spaces is considered to have greater range than typical  Wi-Fi because buildings and landscape features don’t impede the signals. Some technology companies consider white space networks ideal for providing wireless connectivity to simple, low-data appliances such as smart meters and other Internet of Things devices.

Microsoft Research has been investigating white space networks for years as a way to broaden access to technology, especially in Africa. In 2011, the company participated in a white-space broadband test in the U.K.  Check out the company’s white spaces video below to learn more.


Doug Cooley is a staff writer with the Smart Cities Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.


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