Microsoft Pushes White Spaces for Rural Broadband

Microsoft is pushing a $10 billion project for rural broadband using so-called "white spaces" spectrum while also saying it will have 20 towns and cities with updated LTE features up by the end of the year, which it is marketing as "5G Evolution."

Redmond is putting forward a program to bring broadband Internet to the rural US --- working with ISPs -- to connect 2 million Americans by 2022. It is proposing this as part of a wider push it wants businesses to undertake to get high-speed Internet to millions in under served communities, which could cost as much as $10 billion, as originally reported by the Seattle Times.

So what is white spaces spectrum? The term refers to the guard bands (white spaces) used between UHF analog TV channels. In the US, more space in the upper 700MHz UHF band has opened up as broadcasters use digital transmission mechanisms to deliver more channels in less spectrum. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tested a database of white spaces spectrum back in 2013, and some smaller ISPs have actually started deploying local networks using the bandwidth. (See FCC Sets White Spaces Database Test, FCC Approves White Spaces Radio and California Beaming: White Spaces in Gold County.)

Heavy Reading has previously compared using white spaces bandwidth as the spectral equivalent of fracking, eking out broadband services from scarce spectrum resources. Supporters have said that white spaces could help deliver multi-megabit fixed wireless networks. Early tests, however, have shown speeds more in the 3 Mbit/s range. (See White Spaces: The Slow Broadband Revolution.)

Such local networks could have a range of up to 18 miles and be used as an alternative to cable in hard-to-wire areas. Microsoft is not the first tech giant to alight on white spaces as a broadband alternative.

Google chairman Larry Page described white-space technology as WiFi on steroids back in 2008. The search giant has been a vocal proponent of the technology for a number of years now. (See Mommy, What's a White Space?)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

KBode 7/13/2017 | 9:41:27 AM
Re: Freddy's still not dead Huh, that 3 Mbps is lower than I recall. Thought I read a study at one point citing up to 10 Mbps...need to see if I can find that. 
mendyk 7/13/2017 | 9:11:58 AM
Re: Freddy's still not dead The range (up to 18 miles) and data rate (maybe 3Mbps) cited by Dan aren't all that exciting for consumer use, but maybe there's a play for agricultural IoT. Seems like a bit of a Rube Goldberg solution, though.
KBode 7/13/2017 | 8:34:55 AM
Re: Freddy's still not dead Engineers actually have made some pretty impressive progress on this. And while not THE solution for rural broadband, it can be another useful tool in the toolchest. Ignore NAB's crying on the subject. They're a bit of a drama queen. Interference is totally avoidable, based on every objective study I've read. 
mendyk 7/12/2017 | 2:26:39 PM
Freddy's still not dead White spaces is one of those ideas that pop up every few years and don't ever completely go away even if they look thoroughly dead. Kind of like Freddy Krueger, videoconferencing, free-space optics and unified communications.
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