When the Federal Communications Commissionfirst approved the use of unlicensed bands of the airwaves decades ago, it began a revolution in consumer electronics — first in television remote controls and garage door openers, then in baby monitors and cordless phones, and most recently in wireless computer networks.
This month, the F.C.C. is likely to approve what could be an even bigger expansion of the unlicensed airwaves, opening the door to supercharged Wi-Fi networks that will do away with the need to find a wireless hot spot and will provide the scaffolding for new applications that are not yet imagined.
“We know what the first kind of deployments will be,” Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the F.C.C., said in an interview, citing wireless broadband networks that can cover entire university or corporate campuses, for example — what is referred to in the industry as “Wi-Fi on steroids.”
The stronger, faster networks will extend broadband signals to bypassed rural areas and allow for smart electric grids, remote health monitoring and, for consumers, wireless Internet without those annoying dead zones.
“But this will also be a platform for innovators and entrepreneurs,” Mr. Genachowski said. “There is every chance of this leading to the development of one or more billion-dollar industries.”
Just as broadband-ready smartphones could hardly be imagined in 1938, when the F.C.C. first approved the use of unlicensed radio waves, or even in 1985, when it issued the rules that led to Wi-Fi, the eventual consumer products that will use the new airwaves are all but unknown.
“I’m absolutely confident that there will be a huge range of applications that we cannot yet predict,” said Dan Reed, corporate vice president for technology policy and strategy atMicrosoft, which, alongside Google and Dell, has pushed hard for the F.C.C. to approve the new rules.
Anyone who has wandered through a hotel conference center waving a laptop and hoping for a signal knows that wireless broadband connections have their limitations.
The expanded access to airwaves offers a solution. The unused bands of spectrum were generated by the conversion of television signals from analog to digital. Because digital transmission uses a smaller slice of spectrum, more “white space” was freed up around each broadcast signal. It is those white spaces that the F.C.C. is now seeking to put to use.