Microsoft Partners With Redline to Lower the Cost of TV White Space-Based Broadband Solutions

Microsoft today announced partnership with Redline Communications to make TV White Space-based broadband internet solution more affordable and accessible in rural areas in the United States and globally. As part of this partnership, Redline will offer its Virtual Fiber radio technology in the TV White Space band to Microsoft Airband Initiative partners.

“Our work with Redline will increase the availability of competitively priced TV White Space technology, enabling internet service providers (ISPs) to provide access to customers at an affordable price point,” said Paul Garnett, senior director of the Microsoft Airband Initiative. “This availability and utilization of TV White Space is absolutely critical to closing the broadband gap. This partnership will bring rapid evolution to the technology, making a real impact on real lives.”

“With its Virtual Fiber™ technology, Redline has been leading the TV White Space market and has been active in digital divide projects for almost a decade,” said Rob Williams, CEO at Redline. “In discussions with Microsoft, we realized that we shared the same vision for approaching the rural broadband gap, and we each possessed critical components to the solution. This partnership with Microsoft will help us address the digital divide more effectively in the U.S. and around the world.”

This partnership is part of Microsoft’s Airband Initiative which aims to enable broadband access to 2 million unserved people in rural America by 2022.

Source: Microsoft



Microsoft’s Latest Rural Broadband Push

Microsoft’s latest rural broadband push: Microsoft and Declaration Networks today are unveiling plans to deploy broadband using TV White Spaces and other tech in the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Garrett County, Maryland, according to a news release.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

The Microsoft Press Release is HERE

In addition to introducing new service and technology, Microsoft is including digital skills training.

In addition to commercial partnerships with local companies like Declaration, Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative includes digital skills training for people in newly connected communities and access to royalty-free patents. Proceeds from Airband connectivity projects will be reinvested into the program to expand broadband to more rural areas.

We need a Sierra Airband demonstration project. All the 5G hype is ignoring the reality that 5G does not work well in rural settings, with a requirement for a clear line of sight. Limitations that Airband can mitigate.


TV White Spaces Group Boosts Ranks – Where is CA? [Updated 03-22-18]

Connect Americans Now, a coalition backing the use of TV White Spaces to expand access to rural broadband, now has 100 members. Its membership includes Microsoft and ACT | The App Association.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

From the Connect America Now website:

Implications of the Digital Divide

• 6.5 million students lack access to high-speed internet, but 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires a broadband connection. This means that millions of students – most often in rural areas – struggle to keep up with their assignments and fail to learn the computer skills they need to succeed and enter college or the workforce.

• Telemedicine could collectively save lives and millions of dollars annually for underserved patients and rural hospitals that pay up to three times more for broadband than their urban counterparts. Broadband allows patients, regardless of where they live, to access specialists and benefit from advanced monitoring services that would normally require hours of travel for patients or their providers.

• Broadband access brings the promise of precision agriculture, including remote monitoring equipment that helps farmers save money by optimizing irrigation, conserving resources and increasing yields. It also allows farmers to search for new customers, find buyers willing to pay higher prices and identify the most affordable sources of seeds, fertilizers and farm equipment.

• Broadband access will drive economic growth and job opportunities by enabling rural small businesses to expand their customer base from local to global and attract new industries to rural communities.High-speed internet supports workforce development by allowing rural job seekers to access services online, develop new skills through cloud-based training and secure additional employment opportunities like remote teleworking. It will also allow rural communities to keep and attract new workers who require a broadband connection to carry out their daily responsibilities.

Looking at the Membership list HERE, I was disappointed by the lack of California organizations who are supporting White Space TV. Cal.Net is using White Space TV technology to provide access to highly forested areas along SR-49 in Calaveras County and Tuolumne County. Carlson Wireless Technologies in Eureka, California, manufactures White Space TV equipment. The technology is here, where are the community and government support?

It is clear from the Connect America Now membership list that Oregon, which has many highly forested areas, has strong support from multiple organizations. The Mendocino County Broadband Alliance is one California group on board.  More California organizations should be supporting this technology, especially those in the highly forested Sierra? Where is the support from organizations like the Sierra Business Council, Rural County Representatives of California, Nevada County Economic Resource Council, the CPUC’s rural broadband Consortia, and other community organizations? More on this issues in a future post.

[Update ]  Information on White Space TV technology and strategy is HERE

[Update 03-22-18]

The GCBC Team at the Sierra Business Council reports that Plumas Sierra has been beta testing white space TV in Calpine successfully.

“If it turns out to be a good option, they will be looking into building the infrastructure needed to bring it to Sierraville. It, unfortunately, is not an option in Sierra City. We have been keeping our eye on the technology as we do realize it to be a good option for our rural areas and hope to see it implemented where possible.”

This is good news, let’s hope the tests continue to be successful.  Highly forested Sierra areas are a challenge, as radio wave cannot penetrate foliage, especially when it is wet.  5G millimeter wave technology is even a bigger challenge in rural areas due to the line of site requirements free of all foliage.  The TV White Space frequencies between 650-700 Mhz are a better option in highly forested areas.

Microsoft President Brad Smith Calls for Digital Marshal Plan

At Governor’s Meeting Smith joined the governors of Arkansas and Colorado on stage to discuss the persistent digital divide means fewer education and work opportunities for people without broadband internet access.Smith called for a “digital Marshall Plan” for the country that combines public and private sector investment to ensure those living in rural communities have “the future they deserve.” Microsoft aims to bring broadband to 2 million people by 2022 through partnerships with internet providers, in part using white spaces between TV channels to deliver internet to unserved areas. On Sunday, Microsoft announced a new project in Wisconsin and Michigan to that end.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech [edited]

In a state that prides its self on being a technology leader, one has to wonder where is California’s whitespace TV project?  Microsoft started with 14 U.S .projects, adding two more in Wisconsin and Michigan. Why not add one in California, especially in the Sierra where whitespace TV could provide service in highly forested areas.


Is 5G a Feasible Sierra Broadband Solution?

The cable industry, Arris, and CableLabs have been doing some testing of the proposed G5 frequency spectrum. The test result outline some of the challenges broadband providers face in deploying 5G services, including dealing with trees and other foliage.

Terrain and Foliage Masking

One of the highlights of living in rural Sierra counties is the plethora of trees that surround our homes and businesses. These trees we enjoy provide some real line of sight (LOS) deployment challenges for 5G providers. How significant are these challenges? According to the report, the problems are substantial for those providers using millimeter-wave distribution systems. AT&T and Verizon have spent billions to acquire millimeter spectrum and are planning to use that spectrum for G5 broadband distribution.

In its 37 GHz tests, CableLabs found that speeds decreased to around 200 Mbps at 150 feet if signals have to travel through foliage – and those figures slow to below 100 Mbps at 150 feet in dense foliage.
Rain, snow, and wind can dramatically reduce the effectiveness of millimeter wave transmissions. “The impact of deciduous and conifer trees (under gusty wind conditions) suggest that the leaf density from the conifer more frequently produces heavy link losses and these, more so at higher carrier frequencies,”

Folage Attenuation
So far we have only looked at foliage impacts. The Sierra landscape is one of hills and valleys. That rolling terrain makes the line of sight communication extremely difficult. While the top of a hill can be good distribution points, the next hill across the valley creates a shadow for the millimeter wave signal. Also, millimeter-wave beamforming antenna has some distance limitations measured in feet. The distance from hilltop to the end user in a rural setting will often exceed those limitations. Millimeter-wave distribution is better suited to urban environments were the transmission devices and be placed on light poles and other existing infrastructure close to the end user.
In the tree covered hill and valleys of the Sierra Whitespace TV proposed by Microsoft offer some advantages over 5G millimeter-wave distribution. As the report concludes:

We have come a long way in the drive to 5G — but as the saying goes — there is still a long way to go.

Note: The cable industry report discusses many complex details not covered in this short report on foliage and terrain impacts on 5G distribution in the Sierra and deserves a complete and detailed read by community broadband advocates and those opposed to G5 implementation. The full report: 2017-can-a-fixed-wireless-last-100m-connection-really-compete-with-a-wired-connection-.

New Rural Broadband Coalition

Microsoft, ACT | The App Association and the National Rural Education Association are among those that have come together to establish a new coalition dedicated to increasing access to rural broadband using TV White Spaces technology. The group, Connect Americans Now, intends to work with the FCC regarding use of low-band spectrum that would help bolster broadband availability.

Source: Politico Morning Tech

Details on the Microsoft White Space initiative can be found  HERE.

Links to The App Association  and the National Rural Education Association

Cal.NET has proposed to use whitespace technology on projects in highly forested areas in Colusa and Tuolumne Counties. More details as they come available.

Missing Trump Infrastructure Broadband Funds??

This disturbing news for potential rural broadband customers comes from Politico’s Morning Tech newsletter:

“Although the Trump administration doesn’t seem inclined to set aside funds for broadband deployment in its forthcoming infrastructure bill, the White House national security strategy released Monday highlighted the need for next-generation 5G wireless to maintain U.S. competitiveness. “We will improve America’s digital infrastructure by deploying a secure 5G Internet capability nationwide. These improvements will increase national competitiveness, benefit the environment, and improve our quality of life,” the document states.”

Blackburn, Latta cheer the strategy: House digital commerce subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio) commended the plan for putting “America on the cutting edge of emerging fields, like autonomous technologies, including self-driving cars, and artificial intelligence,” while House telecom subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) deemed it a milestone for 5G. “The 5G revolution is here,” she said.

The way I read this news is the Trump Administration, and Congress has been sold a bill of goods by the major telcos that 5G will bring broadband to rural communities. Communities they are currently ignoring as they are too costly to serve without subsidies. Do you buy that 5G is a good solution for rural broadband? I do not, given the challenge that rural communities present, starting with the short range of the mmWaves and need for a clear line of sight void of foliage to function. The mountainous terrain limits population density, thus increasing the installation and operating costs. Microsoft “Airband” technology would be a better option in mountainous regions that are covered with trees and bushes.

Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative will invest in partnerships with telecommunications companies with the goal of bringing broadband connectivity to 2 million people in rural America by 2022.

We will have to wait and see how the final legislation addresses rural broadband needs. Stay Tuned!