The Spectrum Opportunity

Consumers have access to an increasing range of connected devices, for use in and out of the home – the vast majority relying on wireless technologies. Consumers expect instant access to their favorite services regardless of which device they happen to be using, where they happen to be, and what time it is. Whether it’s a simple ping from a rubbish can to the nearest rubbish truck, a school in a remote village connecting to teachers in the capital, or a group of friends watching the latest hi-def movie on a phone, broadband-quality wireless connectivity is essential.

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The Challenge

Unfortunately, even in the most developed economies there are gaps in wireless coverage, access points and base stations become overloaded in busy areas, and pricing presents an affordability barrier for many. In addition, hundreds of millions of wirelessly-connected devices are coming online, all requiring wireless connectivity and bandwidth, further increasing demand for spectrum resources.

At the same time that available spectrum resources are being constrained in many markets, broadband access remains unavailable and/or unaffordable for several billion people around the world. Fixed broadband access is unaffordable for 3.9 billion people spread across every country in the world. Mobile broadband is unaffordable for over 2.6 billion people. Availability and affordability gaps are disproportionately impacting people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The Opportunity

Wireless technologies and management techniques exist today that can replace artificial spectrum scarcity with naturally occurring spectrum abundance. One example is Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA), a term used to describe a set of technologies enabling radio communications devices to opportunistically transmit on available radio spectrum. These technologies ensure that consumers and their devices have wireless bandwidth when and where they need it.

The first globally-harmonized opportunity to use DSA technologies will be in the TV band white spaces – unused VHF and UHF TV channels that can be used to deliver broadband access over wider areas than possible using today's Wi-Fi spectrum. These excellent range and obstacle penetration characteristics explain why people increasingly refer to TV white spaces as "Super Wi-Fi."

Although the first globally-harmonized opportunity to showcase DSA is occurring through license-exempt (unlicensed) access to the TV band white spaces, DSA technologies will be used in a variety of spectrum bands. Underpinned by a regulatory framework that maximizes spectral efficiency and minimizes barriers to market entry, application of these new technologies will help networks and markets scale to inexpensively deliver the services demanded by consumers.

Our Research

For over a decade, Microsoft Research has been inventing new technologies to perfect these techniques. Numerous field trials have validated the feasibility of using these technologies to deliver broadband access. With regulations now in place in the United States and other regulators around the world working on policies and practices to enable DSA, we are starting to see the first commercial deployment of white space networks.

As part of an effort to achieve needed regulatory change, Microsoft is supporting some of these deployments, including reference materials, global pilots, and various Microsoft Research projects related to spectrum technologies.

Additional Resources

Importance of Rule-Based Access

Richard Thanki makes strong arguments that regulators should adopt permissive, rule-based, non-discriminatory access as the default mode of ‘Dynamic Spectrum Access’ (DSA) in his latest report, The Case for Permissive Rule-Based Dynamic Spectrum Access.

Full Report | Website

Economic Significance

In his study, The Economic Significance of License-Exempt Spectrum to the Future of the Internet, Richard Thanki details the economic potential of license-exempt radio spectrum.

Full Report | Summary