Microsoft and TV White Space for Rural Broadband Delivery

Since Microsoft made its announcement about its Rural Airband Initiative to employ TV White Space (TVWS) to deliver rural broadband, discussions in the industry have been, to say the least, robust.

Rural providers across America are struggling to deliver broadband to residents in low density areas, so this news from Microsoft has piqued a lot of interest and some skepticism.

Basically, TVWS is a relatively low frequency, below 700 MHz, area of the television spectrum that is reserved for buffering between active television station frequencies.  According to Microsoft, there are benefits to using these frequencies for rural broadband delivery to areas with less than 200 people per square mile:

  • Cost is 80% less than fiber and 50% less than current fixed wireless technology
  • Penetration signal carries over greater distances through both natural and man-made obstacles

In a whitepaper, Microsoft discussed using a combination of technologies, based on population density, to provide rural broadband access, suggesting that satellite would best serve areas with less than 2 people per square mile, and that above 200 per square mile high frequency 4G is the most efficient option.

Microsoft TVWS

In Maine, Microsoft is already working with Axiom.  Axiom President, Mark Oullette explained that the currently deployed technology delivers download speeds of 3 to 5 Mbps, and that an upgrade, expected by the end of the year, will boost the signal to as much as 25/3 which meets the FCC standard for “served”. Currently, there are 10 to 15 subscribers served from each access point (AP) which is where the signal is generated.

For those who are of the mind that fiber is the only option that’s future-proof, the TVWS technology can serve as an interim solution until fiber can be deployed or for a “last” last mile situation where fiber is impossible.  There are plenty of hard-core fiber proponents who question the initiative and wonder whether there’s a viable business model for it.

Whether Microsoft will reach out to and work with other providers in Maine remains to be seen, but Oullette indicated Axiom’s willingness to cooperate with incumbent providers in a B to B capacity to assist with TVWS solutions when they are applicable.

Our Wireless Experience: “The same but different.”

An OTELCO transmission tower co-habitates with a grain silo in Sedalia MO.

OTELCO offer fixed wireless in parts of our Missouri footprint.  Unlike TVWS, fixed wireless requires line of sight and doesn’t travel well through natural obstacles. Other challenges include interference from other operators, the ratio of subscribers per AP, and distance from the APs.

OTELCO is continuously looking for ways to enhance service delivery.  According to Rick Lashley, Missouri Director of Operations and Products Development, the deployment of new technologies to replace existing legacy equipment, network design efficiency efforts, and employing higher density APs are all in the works.

All of this takes time and, more importantly, money.  The challenge is to find financial resources while maintaining reasonable rates for subscribers.  For the 38 states that Microsoft has not selected, Missouri among them, providers like OTLEOC have to go it alone.  For providers in the 12 selected states, the Airband Initiative may help to serve more rural locations a bit sooner.

We’re all in this together!

The core of the matter is connecting people who are unversed.  To that end, no potential solution should be overlooked.  In the interest of “coopetition” we congratulate our friends at Axiom and look forward to working with them and others to deliver reliable rural broadband in all of the states that we serve.