Sick of that Wi-Fi signal dying whenever you need it most? That may be happening a lot less in the coming years as the FCC pushes forward a plan to turbocharge the wireless tech, giving it longer range and improving its capability to penetrate walls. The key: unused airwaves between TV channels.
One advantageous quality of TV signals is that they penetrate solid objects fairly easily, so if future Wi-Fi devices could take advantage of that, it would be a big boost. One issue, however, is that devices that operate in those TV-signal "white spaces" might interfere with TV reception. The FCC has been working on a plan to make sure that doesn't happen, though, and it plans to vote on it Sept. 23.
It gets complicated because the frequencies that TV channels use vary from area to area, so those white spaces might be different if you're in, say, Seattle instead of Albuquerque. The proposed solution is to have GPS-enabled devices that know where they are, and adjust their operating frequencies according to a map the FCC is working on. Another concern is that wireless microphones operate on similar frequencies, so two channels will be exclusively designated for them, and big wireless-mic areas (like Broadway) will be on the FCC's map.
If all goes well, the next generation of Wi-Fi may be theoretically possible to transmit "several miles" with speeds up to 20 megabits per second, or at least as fast as your cable modem. Proof-of-concept devices might arrive as early as next year, with the first products about a year after that.
We can't wait. First on our want list of Super Wi-Fi devices (after access points): VoIP cellphones that we can use miles from our houses without any contracts. Next would be media streamers that can send multiple HD streams to several TV sets simultaneously. Those devices and more could all be real in the next few years, and we'd even live with so-so reception of American Idol to get them.