What’s next for wireless broadband?

Recently, at the ITU Telecom World 2011 in Geneva, Microsoft, along with several partners including Neul, the University of Strathclyde, Steepest Ascent, and Inveneo, demonstrated innovative new wireless technology. Described as “Super Wi-Fi” by some, it shows how unused TV and other spectrum could be used to connect some of the more than two billion people in the developing world living in rural and remote communities who lack basic access to information and communications technologies (ICT).

At ITU Telecom World, heads of state, government and international organisation leaders, national and regional politicians, researchers, and private sector innovators from around the world are gathered to learn about and debate the future of broadband technologies to create a more connected world. The ITU is the United Nations body responsible for developing ICT standards and regulatory frameworks, identifying frequency spectrum for globally harmonized uses and promoting the use of technology to bridge the global digital divide.

Wireless broadband technology is at an important crossroads. With TV broadcasters transitioning from analog to digital transmissions, there is an opportunity to use that freed up space for innovative broadband technologies. It is expected that the first TV ”Super Wi-Fi” products in the US will enter the market in 2012. Prototype products already have been used successfully in trials and demonstrations in the Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States.

Microsoft is committed to the efficient use of this spectrum in new and novel ways – including exploring how the next generation of wireless technology can help address critical broadband access issues for rural communities. This year, we are helping showcase how so-called “cognitive radio systems” can dynamically use unassigned TV channels for cost-effective broadband-grade voice, data, and video applications. The demonstration is comprised of a base station and client device, provided by hardware suppliers Adaptrum, KTS, and Neul, and a prototype white spaces database developed by Microsoft Research.

Microsoft, joining several consortium partners including BT, the BBC, and Nokia, is supporting a major ”Super Wi-Fi” trial in Cambridge. Likewise, several other partners, including Steepest Ascent and the University of Strathclyde are supporting a trial on the Isle of Bute, Scotland. The dense mixture of historic stone buildings in Cambridge and the rugged, remote terrain of the Isle of Bute present technical and economic challenges for traditional wireless technologies. After implementing “Super Wi-Fi” solutions, the results so far have been promising.

The solution we have been helping demo uses the base station and client station as a whitespace (“Super Wi-Fi”) system where the base station is connected directly to the Internet over a high-bandwidth broadband connection. Meanwhile, a Microsoft XBOX is connected to the Internet through the client station allowing users to browse and stream videos, and conduct video chats to other trial locations like the Isle of Bute.

It is our belief that with ever-growing demand for universal broadband access and exponential mobile data growth, we need to make more efficient use of the TV spectrum. There are a number of advantages of making use of this space through White Space technologies. By using TV band spectrum, these “Super Wi-Fi” next generation wireless networks more effectively penetrate walls and other obstacles than current Wi-Fi and can have a range of several kilometers.

Not only do the networks afford a better and more robust service, they are also envisaged to bring down costs and increase availability of access to consumers, helping to close the access gap in internet connectivity – especially in rural areas and in the developing world.

Microsoft has a long history of working in partnership with the ITU. We are members of the United Nations’ Broadband Commission, set up by the ITU and UNESCO to boost the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda and achieve ambitious Millennium Development Goals for broadband accessibility. Beyond broadband policy and innovation, we have also worked closely with the ITU in critical telecom areas like cybersecurity and cloud computing.

We are excited to be a part of such a pioneering demo this year – showcasing how making the right policy choice and enabling the next generation of broadband technology can improve Internet access for some of the hardest to reach and most underserved communities.

Posted by Howard.

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