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AI/Automation

Microsoft's Airband is 'hot air' with only 300 devices registered – NAB lawyer

According to Microsoft, its Airband initiative in TV "white space" spectrum currently has projects in 25 states and territories, and has so far brought Internet connections to 1.5 million people in the US.

But according to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), that's not quite accurate.

"Four years ago, when NAB was telling the FCC that the white spaces experiment looked like a failure, there were approximately 800 devices registered in the United States. Today there are just over 300," wrote NAB Deputy General Counsel Patrick McFadden in a post to the association's blog.

"In other words, four years after we pointed out that white spaces had not achieved any material success at scale, use of the technology went down," he added. "The ambitious [Airband] promises, the slick video, the very big and very serious deal – it's all turned out to be hot air."

Microsoft officially launched its Airband effort in 2017 with the goal of bringing broadband connectivity to 2 million people in the US by July 2022, a goal the company later raised to 3 million.

Airband essentially looks to create an ecosystem around rural broadband services, connecting vendors, customers and technology providers with business models – sometimes with Microsoft funding and sometimes without. Projects often leverage TV White Spaces (TVWS) spectrum – unused broadcasting frequencies between broadcast TV channels mostly in the 700MHz band – and fixed wireless Internet technologies. TVWS operators are required to register devices in a database in order to prevent interference – the NAB has been using that database to track the usage of TVWS spectrum.

According to the NAB, Microsoft's first Airband announcements in 2017 focusing on rural broadband in Virginia have resulted in no active deployments. "Four years later, there are no white spaces devices in Halifax or Charlotte County [Virginia]. There are just two devices registered in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia and, given that those devices are more than 100 miles away from each other, they definitely aren't communicating with anyone," McFadden wrote.

It's no real surprise NAB is interested in the usage of TVWS. After all, the FCC reallocated that spectrum in 2010 from TV broadcasters represented by the NAB for broadband services. NAB dubbed Airband "a Google Glass-level disappointment" and warned that Microsoft continues to lobby the FCC for more favorable TVWS rules.

A March filing from Microsoft boasts that Airband will connect 3 million people in the US to the Internet by July of 2022, and touts pilot projects in eight US cities from partners including Nextlink and Watch Communications.

Microsoft didn't immediately respond to questions from Light Reading about NAB's latest post. However, Light Reading reported late last year that Paul Garnett, the leader of Microsoft's Airband initiative, left the company. Microsoft also confirmed then that it would shift the focus of its Airband program to also target broadband services in urban areas in addition to rural areas.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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