By John Poirier
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. consumers clamoringfor more video and email while they're on the go might see awhole new breed of faster wireless devices in a couple of yearsif regulators move as expected later this month to startopening up empty airwaves for mobile broadband.
Tech companies are lobbying to use the airwaves to build anew, super WiFi to serve not only users of mobile devices likeApple iPads and other tablets but also homes, schools,hospitals, businesses and municipalities.
Content providers such as Google would benefitfrom the increased speeds to their sites, while device makerssuch as Dell Inc, Nokia and Motorola Inc could profit by building new products to tap into theairwaves.
Microsoft Corp and its competitors are prepared todevelop software for a super WiFi.
Broadcasters, however, have complained there could beinterference with channels currently in use.
The Federal Communications Commission is expected to adopta proposal at a meeting on Sept. 23 to make the unused airwavesfreely available to the entire public.
Considered prime real estate, these empty airwaves, called"white spaces," allow signals to travel faster, penetrate wallsmore easily and cover larger geographical areas than currentspectrum used for WiFi.
They come from spaces between existing broadcast channelsthat were freed up during the digital transition completed in2009.
The airwaves are ideal for some rural communities where itwould be costly to install miles of wires and cablesunderground or atop telephone poles.
"There is every reason to believe that this release ofunlicensed spectrum can generate new multibillion-dollarindustries in the United States," FCC Chairman JuliusGenachowski said in a telephone interview with Reuters.
In 2008 the FCC took the first step of approving the use ofwhite spaces for wireless broadband.
It is not yet known how the FCC's final rule will addressbroadcasters' concerns or how the industry's standard-settingbody should proceed with technical details.
The National Association of Broadcasters said it is workingwith the FCC to adopt a final rule that would preventinterference.
Freeing up some spectrum would be a small victory forGenachowski, who has been criticized by some for not actingmore decisively on major issues such as how to regulatehigh-speed Internet traffic.
Freeing up airwaves for wireless broadband is also a majorgoal of the FCC's National Broadband Plan, which is aimed atmaking affordable broadband available to all Americans.
Spectrum, a limited and highly coveted resource, is at thecenter of a push by wireless companies seeking to meet a hugedemand in handheld devices over the next decade.
"This will help address that demand," Genachowski said.
Consumers may have to wait at a year and a half to twoyears to start seeing the benefits as network operators, chipvendors and device manufacturers all work together to createindustry standards similar to the ones used for current WiFi.
"The white spaces have the potential to spark the nextgeneration of wireless communications," said Google telecom andmedia counsel Rick Whitt.
Google is among a group of tech companies touting thebenefits of the empty channels, telling regulators in a Julyletter that new products will lead to new investment and createjobs -- music to the ears of any regulator and politician.
The industry group which also includes Hewlett-Packard Co, Skype, Atheros Communications Inc andBroadcom Corp, says homes, campuses, municipalitiesand energy grids will benefit from white spaces.
The benefits could vary from city to city. Top markets suchas New York and Los Angeles may have fewer vacant channels thansmaller metropolitan areas but officials expect 5 to 10channels to be vacant in most U.S. cities.
Companies are working on how to outfit devices withtechnology to determine which unused channels are available andaddress broadcasters' concerns about potential interference.
Towns and cities in Virginia, North Carolina and Californiahave been testing sites and are using white space broadband toconnect schools, provide public "hot spots," test water qualityand monitor electricity consumption.
"Transmissions using white spaces frequencies can attain agreater range for the same power -- or the same range withlower power consumption -- than existing higher frequencyunlicensed bands," the industry group wrote. (Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Gary Hill)