Unused TV Spectrum Provides Broadband for Rural America

Technology leveraging unused TV spectrum is being positioned for commercialization, three years after approval by the FCC. This technology can be used to provide wireless broadband Internet in rural areas in the U.S. and in developing countries. In the U.S., there are at least 40 experimental installations operating, in addition to others in Singapore, Vietnam and African countries. These programs involve Google, Microsoft and local telecom companies.

Last week, West Virginia University was the first installation in the U.S. of Super Wi-Fi, which uses the white space, or the unused frequencies in the TV broadcast spectrum. A major goal of Super Wi-Fi is to penetrate through buildings and over distances, similar to TV signals.

The FCC is granting approvals for the general sale of hardware and software required to commercialize this technology. The agency has set strict conditions to avoid interference and require location-based databases to be made as technical guides.

Many smaller wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) are hoping to use the technologies to serve rural areas and extend their coverage. “They have been huge advocates of TV white spaces — it’s much more economical and effective” than using cellular networks or satellite connections, says Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation.

White space transmitters use GPS and connect to an online database to find what frequencies can be used at that location. Google is one company to have built such a database, and Microsoft is also working to create one, but it is mainly focused on launching this technology in non-U.S. areas.

“In February, Microsoft partnered with a Kenyan telecom and the government to deliver white-spaces Internet to remote villages in Kenya that previously lacked both Internet and electricity,” reports MIT Technology Review. “Several schools, libraries, agriculture offices, and health clinics are now being served. The company is also working in Tanzania and Singapore, among other countries.”

In the U.S., these technologies are seen as one method for public libraries to extend their services, such as the Kansas City Library, which is in development to connect to smaller, hub libraries miles away. Other libraries throughout the country are also invited to apply.

Other companies, such as Samsung, are attempting to deliver wireless broadband using higher frequencies, which can carry more data. But obstacles remain, such as rainfall.