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Using “white space” TV spectrum for rural broadband in the UK and America

The TVWS-based service is the brainchild of Nominet, an organisation better known as the .uk domain name registry. It is working with Broadway Partners, whose aim and ambition is “to cover the whole of the UK with Whitespace radio, a technology perfectly suited to meeting the rural broadband challenge.” Broadway Partners says TVWS spectrum is tailor-made for remote, hard-to-reach rural areas, delivering great quality broadband even through trees and buildings and around hills.”

Currently trialling the latest generation of the technology which can deliver 40Mbps, it is expected that a further iteration will boost that to 100Mbps. The great thing about TVWS is that anyone that wants to can freely use it to build a commercially viable high-speed data network. BT ran TVWS trials on the Scottish island of Bute and in rural Suffolk but abandoned them to concentrate on “other solutions”. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Microsoft has big plans to use TVWS to bring broadband to the huge swathes of the country that still do not have access to broadband services at anything approaching economical user rates. According to the latest figures from the US regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 24 million Americans living in remote rural areas are still without broadband. Step forward, Microsoft.

As part of the ‘Rural Airband Initiative’ the company says it can solve the problem within five years by using TVWS. It plans to have 12 trials underway in twelve states by mid-2018. Microsoft’s Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith, says, “Real progress to close the rural broadband gap has plateau’d in recent years. Our goal is not to enter the telecoms business ourselves or even profit directly from the projects we get involved in. We will invest in the upfront capital projects needed to expand broadband coverage, seek a revenue share from operators to recoup our investment and then use these revenue proceeds to invest in additional projects to expand coverage further.”

“As a country we can’t settle for an outcome that leaves behind more than 23 million of our rural neighbours. To the contrary, we can and we should bring the benefits of broadband coverage to every corner of the nation. This is about getting everybody online in rural communities, including consumers, businesses, farmers and schools.”

At first glance TVWS certainly seems to have the potential to be more viable and, literally, less “pie in the sky” than Facebook drones or Loon balloons.

Time will tell.

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