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

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