The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted unanimously (five to nil) in favor of using unlicensed whitespace airwaves for what it calls "WiFi on steroids" or "super WiFi." The opening of these unused television airwaves for mobile broadband should result in new, faster wireless devices. The move is the FCC's first significant release of unlicensed spectrum in 25 years. The reason for the super/steroids name is simple: the frequencies allow signals to travel farther, require fewer access points, penetrate obstructions such as walls more easily, and cover larger geographical areas.

The new WiFi system is supposed to boost Internet speeds in homes, businesses, schools, and municipalities, helping to bring broadband to rural areas and improve connectivity for mobile devices. Commercialization is expected to take about two years as network operators, chip vendors, and device manufacturers develop industry standards. The empty airwaves, which consist of the spaces between existing broadcast channels, were freed up during the digital television transition in 2009. Microsoft, Google, and other tech companies have all been lobbying the FCC to give the green light ever since.

The National Association of Broadcasters is reviewing the ruling. Broadcasters fear the new devices may interfere with their channels, particularly those used to operate wireless microphones required for news reporting, but the FCC clarified conditions for use of the unlicensed spectrum to mitigate their concerns. For example, white space devices are required access a database every 24 hours to check for available spectrum that won't interfere with broadcaster channels. Furthermore, two channels would be reserved for wireless microphones in each market, allowing 12 to 16 microphones to operate without any interference, and any need for more capacity (like major sporting events) would be handled on a case-by-case basis.