Microsoft commits to further U.S. investments in TVWS this year

Even though the recently concluded incentive auction created uncertainty among white-spaces users and the developing ecosystem, Microsoft says it is committed to taking on more TV white spaces (TVWS) investments with partners around the United States this year.

Speaking last week at a Senate committee hearing titled “Exploring the Value of Spectrum to the U.S. Economy,” Dave Heiner, VP, regulatory affairs at Microsoft, said it’s important to have more unlicensed spectrum available in the low-, mid- and high bands to meet the growing needs for Wi-Fi and other technologies, like Bluetooth, that use unlicensed spectrum.

“We strongly support action at the FCC to ensure that enough TV white-spaces channels remain available for unlicensed use and hope the FCC will finalize commercially reasonable white-spaces rules soon so we can move ahead,” Heiner said in written testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet.

To be clear, CTIA said it favors a policy that supports both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, but it has a particular fondness for licensed spectrum, which it describes as the foundation for world-leading 4G LTE networks in the U.S. Microsoft also said it supports a balanced policy that includes both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, but pointed out that unlicensed spectrum is carrying 16 times more internet traffic than licensed spectrum.

In southern Virginia, Microsoft has partnered with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communications and the Commonwealth of Virginia to use white spaces to bring high-speed internet access into the homes of previously unconnected studies. With just a handful of transmitters dispersed in the surrounding rural area, a school with wired fixed broadband access area can offer internet access to kids who don’t have broadband at home. In all, the project aims to serve 7,500 primary and secondary school students when fully deployed.

The concept is to give the kids who don’t have home access a little device that costs about $50 and picks up the white spaces signal and basically turns it into a Wi-Fi signal, “and so in this manner, we can help to address the homework gap,” Heiner said.

The Wi-Fi Alliance issued a study last week that showed between 500 MHz and 1 GHz of additional spectrum is needed to support expected growth in Wi-Fi by 2020. The report also said that Wi-Fi spectrum needs to be sufficiently contiguous to support 160 MHz wide channels.

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Heiner said Microsoft is enthused about extra bandwidth that emerged in the 600 MHz band as a result of the incentive auction and about the FCC’s Spectrum Frontiers proceeding, emphasizing the importance of predictability for planning purposes.

“It’s been a little bit of a challenge in the TV white spaces area over the past 10 years where the rules have been a little bit in flux,” he said. “We really feel like we need to move forward with investing in that technology now and we’re sort of redoubling our efforts and we feel like the rules are almost done and so we’re ready to move forward.”