Microsoft Plans to Leverage TV Whitespace Frequencies to Offer Internet Access in Remote Areas

TV whitespace spectrum represents the frequencies unused by analog TV channels either because noone is broadcasting at a given frequency or because of analog TV sunset. There are plans to use this free spectrum for the Internet of Things with Weightless, but instead Microsoft plans to leverage this new bandwidth for Internet access in remote areas.

There are some hurdles to this technology as government must approve use of TV whitespace spectrum for use other than TV signals, and the receiver is now rather expensive at $1000, but Microsoft expects the price to come down to around $200.

The advantage of TV frequencies is that they can be used over long distances, and easily penetrate through walls. The company has apparently started working on the technology since the end of 2012, and they now have pilot programs in various countries including the US, the UK, Jamaica, Namibia, Kenya, Taiwan and others.

Those projects have been running for some time, but this is now news because the technology will be/has been demonstrated in New York today, with the service becoming available in 12 states in the US soon, not from Microsoft directly, bu via local ISPs.

Via Liliputing.

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9 Replies to “Microsoft Plans to Leverage TV Whitespace Frequencies to Offer Internet Access in Remote Areas”

  1. On another news site Microsoft’s plan gets a kicking

    “.In response, NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton, described it as “the height of arrogance” for Microsoft – a $540 billion company – to demand free, unlicensed spectrum after refusing to bid on broadcast TV airwaves in the recent FCC incentive auction. “Microsoft’s white space device development has been a well-documented, unmitigated failure. Policymakers should not be misled by slick Microsoft promises that threaten millions of viewers with loss of lifeline broadcast TV programming,” he warned.”

    Seems all is not Rosey in Microsoft’s garden

  2. @theguyuk

    Translation — the NAB wants Microsoft to pay it billions for the spectrum their broadcasters got from the US government for free and that they are using for UHF stations that are broadcasting 24/7 home shopping networks (ie shopping channels that occasionally display an EBS alert, alias lifeline broadcast).

  3. “TV whitespace spectrum represents the frequencies unused by analog TV channels”

    And the frequencies unused by digital TV stations. Most Western nations no longer have any transmissions of analog TV and the digital TV transmissions occupy much of the lower UHF frequencies (the higher ones being cleared for cellphone transmissions). (USA also still uses VHF frequences as well as UHF frequencies.)

    The trial of broadband over TVWS in the UKofGB&NI was in Cambridge over five years ago. Since then the only scheme in operation is on the Isle of Arran in Scotland (since 2016?) which covers only a very small coastline area, and the (initial setup) connection fee is GBP 200, although residents who currently get less than 2 MBps download, and British Telekon has no plans to upgrade the facilities for their ADSL service within the next 12 months, can get a grant to cover the cost.

    Another scheme has now been announced followin the request for test pilot scheme for Llanarth Parish, Monmouthshire by Monmouthshire County Council.

    So five years after the succesful test trial in Cambridge which Microsoft played a key role, there has been virtually no public motivation or commerical impetus to adopt this technology in the UKofGB&NI.

  4. @Jon Smirl
    “the NAB wants Microsoft to pay it billions”

    If Microsoft or any of the TVWS ISPs were to pay for using UHF spectrum the money would not and never would be going to the NAB but would be paid to the federal government.

  5. @Arthur Frayn

    Under the rules of that auction that MS did not participate in the money would go to the US government, but then 50% was going to be paid out to the NAB broadcasters as “compensation” for surrendering the spectrum they currently occupy. It was an “incentive” auction.

  6. I’m not an expert in this, but this is what I recall from reading about the situation over the last couple of years…. CableTV has caused the over the air viewership of UHF stations to drop to basically zero. But these UHF stations are still valuable for two reasons. First is the must carry rule on cable that was meant to protect religious broadcasters. The UHF stations sell their airtime 24/7 to home shopping operators and then use the must carry rule to force cable to give them a channel for free. This is a profitable business which pointlessly consumes spectrum. Second is that the owners of these stations are waiting for a billion dollar windfall from selling their spectrum for other uses. The value they expect to receive is based on the value of the new use, not the current use. For example converting the spectrum to cellular or internet use. So no one will voluntarily give up a UHF license even though nobody is watching any more. The fact that they display EBS messages satisfies the public service portion of their license.

    So the question is, do these broadcasters own their spectrum? Or do they have a license giving then use of it for a fixed amount of time. Obviously the broadcasters think they own it and now want to be paid billions to give it up. On the other hand they has never paid anything for it.

    I tend to be on the other side that FCC licenses do not come with infinite, automatic, guaranteed renewals and instead can be terminated. If I was running the FCC I would simply refuse to renew these licenses. But then that gets into a sticky problem since the religious channels are using the same must carry trick to get cable channels for free. Cable channels are normally sold for high prices that most religious groups can not afford to pay.

    This mess resulted in the creation of the incentive auction which pays the UHF stations to vacate the spectrum. But then they held the auction and no one bid on the very high minimum bids. Those minimum bids were set based on what the UHF owners wanted in compensation. There is another angle to this – digital repack, which complicates this mess even more.

  7. @Jon Smirl
    “CableTV has caused the over the air viewership of UHF stations to drop to basically zero.”

    You are aware that in some markets, one or main affiliate stations are on a UHF channel rather than a VHF channel?
    For example in one major market, Detroit, the CBS affiliate (owned and operated by CBS) is broadcast on UHF channel 44. The PBS affiliate is also on UHF, namely channel 56. So not all UHF stations are just shopping networks.

    And that the channel used in a station’s unofficial name tag is their PSIP virtual channel number which although it is the old VHF analog channel number does not accurately reflect their actual channel used for transmission which may be UHF.

    There is no doubt that cable and to a limited extent satellite (eg Dish network) have caused a large reduction in over the air viewing in the past 30 years, but with the switch to digital TV (meaning either a good picture and no ghosting or no picture at all compared to grainy and/or ghosted analog reception) and the phenomenon of “cord-cutting” because of exorbitant cable fees for hundreds of stations (including all the shopping stations) which discerning viewers never watch, there has been something of a resurgence in OTA reception.

    I have no disagreement with your comments with regard to stations which are run purely as 24/7 rebroadcasters of shopping networks or religious networks (AFAIR TBN were at one time extremely predatory in snapping up LP and repeater licenses which had been intended for stations producing local programs.)

    But back on topic of Microsoft and TVWS — the big question is why, even though they have been working on this for more than 5 years, have they suddently made this big media blitz now. Is it an attempt to push up a falling stock price (because some executive wants to sell off some of his stock at a better price)?

  8. ” The PBS affiliate is also on UHF, namely channel 56.”

    That should of course be channel 43. PSIP is 56, because WTVS was originally analog on channel 56.

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