AIR.U is a new coalition by the founders of Gig.U that will bring Super Wi-Fi networks — better known to some as White Space networks, or wireless internet over unlicensed and unused TV channels — to over 500 educational institutions across the US. Comprised of higher education associations, public interest groups, and private tech companies like Microsoft and Google, AIR.U aims to offer fast, reliable internet to remote schools and universities in areas otherwise too remote for wired broadband.
The coalition was started after universities attending the Gig.U Request for Information Process pointed out that rural schools weren't eligible or even capable of getting Gig.U's gigabit data networks. In response, members of the Gig.U coalition began exploring the viability of White Spaces as an alternative and found that, because of greater availability of TV spectrum, rural areas were actually better suited for the technology than more densely populated communities.
AIR.U expects Super Wi-Fi networks to get around 10Mbps per 6MHz channel with a maximum range of six miles, though more speed and range are possible depending on geographic topography and how much spectrum is available. As desirable as it would be to have long-range Wi-Fi on a smartphone or consumer device, the networks will at first be used to bridge internet connectivity between distant campus buildings and neighborhood homes that are too remote for digital cable.
The FCC approved White Spaces in September of 2010, and since then we've heard of a few test networks going up around the US and overseas to varying degrees of success. The expansion of Super Wi-Fi has been somewhat slow because of the lack of commercial grade networking hardware, but forcefully opening a new market for hardware vendors to operate in is certainly one way to spur development. AIR.U's planning phase is already underway, and expects the first networks to be operational by Q1 of next year.