Gig.U and founding partners launch Air.U, a super wi-fi project to expand small town and rural internet access

A consortium of higher education associations, public interest groups and high-tech companies have formed a new partnership named AIR.U (Advanced Internet Regions) to deploy Super Wi-Fi networks on underserved college campuses and their local communities. The partnership will use unlicensed access to unused television channels to provide access.

The founding Higher Ed organizations collectively represent over 500 colleges and universities nationwide, and include the United Negro College Fund, the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE), the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC), the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, and Gig.U, a consortium of 37 major universities committed to accelerating world-leading broadband connectivity and services.

Founding partners also include Microsoft, Google, the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, a think tank based in Washington D.C., the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and Declaration Networks Group, LLC, a newly created organization established to plan, deploy and operate Super Wi-Fi technologies.

AIR.U will focus on upgrading broadband offerings in those communities that, because of their educational mission, have greater than average demand but often, because of their rural or small town location, have below average broadband. The consortium’s initial goal is to plan and deploy several pilot networks in diverse university communities and create a roadmap for the rapid deployment of sustainable, next generation wireless networks as White Space equipment becomes widely available in 2013.  

Super Wi-Fi networks will transmit on much lower frequencies than today’s Wi-Fi, allowing the broadband signals to penetrate further into buildings and cover much larger areas. As CivSource previously reported, one of the founding partners of this project – Gig.U will provide 1gbps services to universities and local communities in that project. Gig.U is a project of the Aspen Institute and several major research universities, typically in larger cities and metropolitan areas.

The idea for AIR.U arose during the Gig.U Request for Information process, in which a number of rural colleges, who were not eligible to join Gig.U, realized that their constituents needed gigabit connectivity just as much as larger research-based university communities. 

“Colleges in rural areas will be the greatest beneficiaries of Super Wi-Fi networks because they are located in communities that often lack sufficient broadband, their needs are greater and there is typically a large number of vacant TV channels outside the biggest urban markets,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.  

The AIR.U consortium expects one or more pilot networks will be operational by the first quarter of 2013.