Microsoft Proposes $10B White Space Project

Carl Weinschenk

One group of people who will enjoy outsized benefits from emerging technology are those living in rural areas. And that only seems fair, since they have suffered with substandard broadband for so long.

5G fixed wireless is the highest profile platform to aid rural citizens. Another technique is white space, which utilizes that bandwidth that buffers broadcast channels. Microsoft, according to The Seattle Times, is proposing a $10 billion white space project that would connect 23.4 million rural Americans. The five-year program would combine corporate donations and matching federal and state grants.

The dynamics of 5G fixed wireless and white space are radically different. The latter is the first wave of what almost certainly will be a radical change of telecommunications worldwide.

5G ushers in an era in which wireless and wired approaches more or less are on a level playing field. Fixed versions of this technology will come first because they are easier technically. Roaming and miniaturization challenges can be left for another day. Serendipitously, this earlier use of the technology has a strong business case of its own. Carriers can learn and develop while generating revenue.


White space is far more limited. It is not the cutting edge of a new technology. It has not lived up to its promise. One of the challenges is that a sophisticated infrastructure is necessary to ensure that white space transmissions don’t impact neighboring broadcasters. This is a real-time requirement: What is fine after sundown may not be so the next morning.

White space is a more modest endeavor than 5G fixed wireless. However, it has a monumental advantage: Much of the technical challenge of 5G involves harnessing very high millimeter frequencies. They are short range and easily disrupted by things in the environment, from rain and fog to furniture and walls. Conversely, the broadcast spectrum used by white space is the beachfront property of the radio spectrum. That’s why it was used for broadcast in the first place, and it’s a big deal.

Microsoft has been researching and testing white space for several years. It’s been a rocky road that doesn’t seem to have smoothed out. The Hindu Business Line reports that Microsoft was denied permission to continue a white space trial in Harisal, a small village in the western state of Maharashtra. The move was made because telecom operators said the technology should be rolled out by licensed operators using auctioned spectrum.

Microsoft is unlikely to bring the technology, which is used for health and educational services Harisal, to other villages. A cellular operator will continue supporting the services in Harisal, however.

That setback notwithstanding, development continues. The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. and Adaptrum have opened the SOVA Innovation Center for TV White Space Broadband Development at the Center for Advanced Engineering Research. The facility, which is in Forest, Virginia, was recently purchased by Liberty University. White space will also be used in Quezon City Police District headquarters in Camp Karingal.

This is good news for people in rural areas. Differentiated services will vie for market share. In some cases, they will compete directly. That’s actually good news all around the world.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

 


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