A Grandmother is the First to Get Super Wi-Fi

That Wi-Fi that you're running is nice for your personal living area, but its range is so limited that some people aren't able to get signal all throughout their suburban homes without installing repeaters. That's where Super Wi-Fi comes in.

Last fall, the FCC approved Super Wi-Fi, which is Wi-Fi on steroids. The FCC opened up the spectrum between 50MHz and 700MHz that were previously used for television signals.

The massive benefit to the spectrum between 50MHz and 700MHz over the currently used 2.4GHz is that the lower frequencies travel better through walls and for further distances. Instead of measuring your router's range in feet, Super Wi-Fi routers will be able to reach for miles. Range is the main benefit, as initial speeds will be at 15Mbps to 20Mbps.

The first lucky person to make use of the first residential Super Wi-Fi is Houston resident Leticia Aguirre.

"I've wanted to have the Internet for a long time, but it's very expensive" said Aguirre, 48, a working grandmother and homeowner who's never had a reliable Internet connection at her home.

Thanks to a partnership between Rice University wireless communications researchers and Houston nonprofit Technology For All (TFA), Aguirre's home became a Super Wi-Fi hot spot this month. Rice and TFA have plans to deploy the service to 3,000 residents in East Houston, which could be the first step in Super Wi-Fi's way to becoming a common fixture in cities and rural areas in the coming decade.

"We have federal support from the National Science Foundation to develop this technology in an open-source way," said Rice's Edward Knightly, professor in electrical and computer engineering, whose research group built the prototype Super Wi-Fi equipment that Aguirre is using. "Ultimately, we want to develop this technology in such a way that it benefits the most people by accessing the right spectrum for the right users. Having Mrs. Aguirre as our first user really shows the potential benefits for people who've been underserved with traditional broadband."

When Knightly's research group teamed up with TFA to launch a free community broadband Wi-Fi network in the East Houston neighborhood of Pecan Park in 2004, Aguirre was one of the first homeowners to agree to host a Wi-Fi hot spot. That network, TFA-Wireless, now serves a three-square-mile area. But Aguirre, who lives at the edge of the network, has never received a good Wi-Fi signal at her home.

Aguirre said she got so frustrated with the traditional Wi-Fi that she considered asking TFA to remove the Wi-Fi antenna from her home.

"But I need the Internet to see that my paychecks have been deposited and to do other things," she said. "When they called me to see if I wanted to try this, it was an answer to my prayers."

Aguirre said she is looking forward to using email and Skype to stay in touch with friends and family, including her three children and her five-year-old grandson, and to watching religious videos online and learning more about how a computer can help her in her daily life.

The original TFA-Wireless network was designed as a test bed for urban "multihop" Wi-Fi technology. In late 2010, just as the FCC established its rules for Super Wi-Fi, Knightly's team received a new grant from the National Science Foundation to incorporate Super Wi-Fi into the TFA-Wireless network.

"Mrs. Aguirre was the perfect user for this because of the problems we had serving her with traditional Wi-Fi," said Ryan Guerra, a Rice graduate student who spent several months creating the Super Wi-Fi equipment that TFA-Wireless installed at Aguirre's home. To users, the new hot spot looks like any other; it can be accessed with any Wi-Fi device. Behind the scenes, the network uses "dynamic spectrum access" to automatically shift between traditional Wi-Fi and unused UHF digital TV channels to provide the best possible coverage.

"This Super Wi-Fi technology is a quantum leap in terms of the end-user experience that it will allow us to provide to users on our network," said Will Reed, president and CEO of TFA.

"The fact that this is happening in a community-broadband setting is significant as well, because this technology has a real potential to break down barriers and bring broadband to underserved urban and rural communities," said Reed, who has served both as an alternate member of the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee and as a member of the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee Working Group on Rural and Underserved Populations.

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • virtualban
    I hope she never runs into bandwidth caps.
  • elel
    That's a lot of bandwidth that the FCC just allocated - let's hope it does some good!
  • warmon6
    virtualbanI hope she never runs into bandwidth caps.
    Well, i think the super wifi is community based. So..... its not just her you should be worried about bandwidth caps for.
  • Parsian
    grandma can now watch unlimited amount of porn???
  • warmon6
    Here a youtube video for this article!

  • In other news, lawmakers funded by Telecomm interests have introduced legislation to make super wi-fi illegal, saying that the increased availability of internet and potential carrier choice infringes on the telecomm industry's monopoly...
  • Mathos
    We've had something similar to this where I live in Marshall, TX. Unfortunately it's a local owned business, and the person who runs it charges far too much to make it reasonable for anyone who doesn't live outside of traditional broadband's distribution area to be worth while. It basically uses a directional antenna on the ~900Mhz range. The price here would be one thing if he were offering reasonably fast speeds, but its almost $80 for 1-1.5mbps
  • memadmax
    The cable companies are gonna be po'd about this.

    High speed internet without a wire?

  • dark_lord69
    There has got to be a lot of hostility about this technology from other companies.

    Example: If I had this available in my neighborhood I would NOT be paying $100 a month for Cable TV and internet to Charter. Charter would then either lose me as a customer or have to lower thier prices to compete.

    Also, My phone can recieve WiFi. Why would I need a data plan if a WiFi signal was measured in miles? I currently don't have and don't want a data plan. I just connect to WiFi hotspots (at coffee shops, home and work for example). Hotspots are seem to be everywhere but now with WiFi soon to be more litterally almost everywhere I will never need a data plan and some day other people might realize they can just use a WiFi connection instead of paying for a data plan.
  • iubyont
    I understand the reasoning behind multi-hop connections, but this is just getting to the point of ridiculousness. Most people have 2 telecom providers running fiber optic cable underneath their streets, but people can't get or can't afford internet because of waste caused by having to run 2 fiber optic lines instead of one, the price gouging attitude of these telecom firms, and the stupidity of the american gov't to not treat data communication like a semi-monopolistic public utility like energy.