Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Microsoft to test white-space spectrum for wireless

Consortium test this week will investigate how unused TV spectrum could be tapped for new wireless broadband networks, according a Financial Times report.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
2 min read

A Microsoft-led consortium will begin a test in Britain this week to investigate how unused TV spectrum could be employed for new wireless broadband networks, according to a Financial Times report.

The group, which includes the BBC, British Sky Broadcasting, and telecommunications giant BT, hopes to tap "white spaces" to create "super Wi-Fi" networks to sate bandwidth-hungry smartphones, according to the report.

"Spectrum is a finite natural resource. We can't make more and we must use it efficiently and wisely," Dan Reed, Microsoft's vice president of technology policy and strategy, told the newspaper. "The TV white spaces offer tremendous potential to extend the benefits of wireless connectivity to many more people, in more locations, through the creation of super Wi-Fi networks."

The 300MHz to 400MHz of unused "white space" spectrum is considered prime spectrum for offering wireless broadband services because it can travel long distances and penetrate through walls. The Federal Communications Commission unanimously agreed in November 2008 to open up this spectrum for unlicensed use.

Microsoft has been testing new technology that uses the unlicensed spectrum on its 500-acre Redmond, Wash., campus. The company built the wireless network using only two base stations to transmit the signals via the white-space spectrum. Signals that use the white-space spectrum travel at least three times farther than signals transmitted over other unlicensed spectrum, such as Wi-Fi. This means it can cover an area that is almost nine times as large as one that uses Wi-Fi and because it operates at a much lower frequency than Wi-Fi, it can penetrate buildings much more easily.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and others have compared the white-space market to Wi-Fi--a $4 billion-a-year industry that also does not require a spectrum license. Last year, Microsoft commissioned research that suggests white-space applications may generate $3.9 billion to $7.3 billion in economic value each year.

CNET's Marguerite Reardon contributed to this report.