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!

Microsoft touts rural broadband plan at governors’ meeting in Phoenix

More details on how Microsoft Airband will operate, see blue highlighted text below.


Rural areas in Arizona will be among the first to try a new broadband internet technology being launched by Microsoft, a company executive said during a panel discussion in Phoenix on Friday.

Arizona is among 13 states identified as the first to test pilot a new Microsoft initiative to bring internet to rural areas.

“We’re launching a series of pilot projects in states around the country over the course of five years,” said Ryan Harkins, director of state affairs and public policy at Microsoft.

Harkins explained the plan during a session of the winter 2017 meeting of the Western Governors Association in Phoenix on Friday. He was part of a panel discussing the past and future of the Western United States.

Over the next year, the cloud-computing giant has pledged to roll out “Airband,” technology to several rural areas in Arizona, as well as other states, Harkins said.

The technology uses TV white spaces, which are unused television channels, to transmit Wi-Fi signals to small businesses and homes within 10 miles of a transmitter.

“TV white spaces provide broadband using unused TV channels over the air,” Harkins said. “(You have a) base station, hook it up to the internet, broadcast the signal to a 10-mile radius to homes, businesses and farms.”

The method is limited, he cautioned, saying internet speeds through Airband are “good enough.”

It’s not fiber speeds, but it is possible to achieve speeds that meet the FCC’s definition of broadband,” Harkins said. “Which is fast enough to stream a movie or do anything a small business or homeowner wants to do.”

The base station towers will be paid for by Microsoft and local internet providers will offer the internet service, he said.

“We’ll provide capital investment to get the (project) off the ground,” Harkins said. “It is much cheaper to build the infastructure needed to get broadband up and running than traditional forms of broadband, which has been the classic problem as to why we have this broadband gap.”

This technology, Harkins said, will allow people in the far reaches of Arizona and other rural communities to take advantage of the benefits that technology is providing to the rest of the country.

“We live in a time of profound change,” he said. “It is a revolution that is driven largely by cloud computing. This trend is changing everything. Every industry.”

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Today in Technology: Innovation in the Heart of America

Brad Smith, Microsoft President, writing at LinkedIn with Carol Ann Browne

We live in a time when it’s easy to talk about a divided America. On some days the divide is characterized by partisanship and a division between our political parties. On other days the news is characterized by racial or economic divides. But there’s another divide that deserves our attention: it’s the technology divide that impacts too much of the United States.

One simple but powerful way to measure access to technology today is whether people have access to broadband. And in the United States today, 23.4 million people in rural America do not. It’s not even a question of affordability. There simply is no broadband service they can buy.

Broadband is no longer just about watching YouTube videos or the latest hits on Netflix – although it’s worth remembering that as many in the nation discuss the latest episodes of Stranger Things, more than 20 million people live in communities that effectively have no access to it.

Broadband has become a necessity of life. It’s fundamental for a child’s ability to do homework after school. It’s essential for a veteran’s to access telemedicine services rather than spend four hours driving to a VA Hospital. It has become the future of farming with precision agriculture. And it’s vital for small businesses and their ability to expand their customer base and create new jobs.

As we look at the broad range of cloud services that our customers use to harness the power of Microsoft datacenters, it’s apparent that broadband has become the electricity of our age. Just as the country committed in the 20th century that every American would have access to electricity and long-distance telephones, the United States today needs to commit itself to ensuring that broadband coverage is available to everyone.

It’s apparent that broadband has become the electricity of our age.
As with electricity and telephony, this is an issue and opportunity not just for government but for companies and the private sector. That’s why we launched Microsoft’s Airband initiative in July. Its aim is to partner with telecommunications companies to bring broadband coverage to at least two million new Americans over the next five years. But its purpose is larger than that. It’s to advance new technology, spur the broader market and encourage policymakers across the country to take the additional steps needed to eliminate the rural broadband gap entirely by 2022. We believe this is an achievable, affordable, and even essential goal for the country.

But bringing innovation back to every part of the country will require more than broadband. It requires a broader range of investments in digital skills in schools, digital transformation for businesses, and digital support for non-profits. That’s why we’ve launched Microsoft’s TechSpark program, which is partnering with six communities outside the countries’ large cities to invest in and learn more about how technology can better support economic growth in these parts of the country. It provides us with the opportunity to learn from local leaders in specific regions in Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Washington State.

Read Full Article HERE.

If Broadband is a necessity of life, government agencies at all levels should treat it as critical infrastructure, just like water, waste, power, and transportation.  


Microsoft Leverages Tv White Spaces in Puerto Rico

Microsoft this morning is announcing its use of TV white spaces – unused broadcast spectrum channels – to help build out access to broadband in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands following the hurricanes that took out essential communications infrastructure in both regions. “In partnership with NetHope, government agencies, local Internet Service Providers, and local TV broadcasters, we have deployed TV White Space technology from our Airband initiative to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” the company’s technology and corporate responsibility general manager Shelley McKinley writes in a blog post. Microsoft has been a proponent of using TV white spaces to deploy broadband to rural regions.

Source: Politico Morning Tech