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Microsoft to use unused TV channels to offer broadband
July 16, 2017, 3:49 pm


Microsoft plans to utilize unused TV broadcast channels, also called ‘white spaces,’ to get broadband internet to rural communities in the US. The company’s pilot project, which will include offering white space broadband to 12 communities in 12 states in 12 months, has the potential to bring an additional two million Americans into the high-speed fold. Once proven successful, the technique could be emulated in other countries and could potentially bring broadband access to millions of people around the world

The technology is not new — Microsoft and others have been trying to tackle the problem since at least 2008. Use of these white spaces has a couple of advantages over traditional means of delivering broadband, because it offers similar reliability when compared to Wi-Fi, but can reach much further with lower power requirements. Plus, white space tech offers better coverage than cellular since it is not as hampered by radio blocking impediments like concrete walls.

Microsoft still has some hurdles to climb, including getting buy-in from local regulators regarding their ability to make use of these unused channels. It also has to counter arguments from broadcasters who claim use of these channels will interfere with their TV signals. Finally, it has to overcome a significant cost hurdle — hardware for use with white space-based broadband is expensive, though Microsoft said that it will be able to get pricing down for hardware to below $200.

Allies for Microsoft include internet service providers (ISP), since the tech giant does not want to be an ISP itself. It is partnering with local ISPs to help get infrastructure in place, and then also to share the resulting revenue from new customers. The chance to create a new addressable market with around 24 million potential customers in the US is a decent carrot to enlist the help of regional ISPs.

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