US frees unused airwaves for 'super wi-fi' technology

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Wi-fi signals in the newly freed spectrum are better able to travel long distances

The US broadcasting regulator has announced it will make unused television airwaves available for new "super wi-fi" technology.

In a statement, the Federal Communications Commission described the spectrum between television channels as "prime real estate" for mobile devices.

It hopes the move will turn swathes of the country into giant wi-fi hot spots.

Officials also said it would encourage innovation and job growth and make the US more competitive globally.

"It will enhance our economy and strengthen our global competitiveness, lead to billions of dollars in private investment and to valuable new products and services - some we can imagine, and many we can't," Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement after the commission's unanimous vote.

'Smart city' applications

The FCC said the move marked the first time in more than two decades a large band of spectrum had been opened. The airwaves became vacant last year when the US moved to an all-digital television broadcast system.

Technology firms are eager to begin using the airwaves, in part because signals in that spectrum can travel several miles, penetrate walls and allow large transfers of data.

The move came after several successful pilot programmes across the US, Mr Genachowski said.

Wilmington, in the state of North Carolina, for example, has experimented with "smart city" applications to manage traffic and water quality.

Some broadcasters fear the move will interfere with their operations, including wireless microphones used to report news.