The first “white spaces” devices, which thread long-range wireless data signals through gaps in TV spectrum, will start to appear later this year. Microsoft is bidding to play a central role in how they operate.
The coming devices are expected to include home routers to bring Internet to the home and even mobile devices such as phones or tablets. To avoid interfering with TV broadcasts, they will check with a government-appoved online database to learn of available white spaces between channels in their area. Microsoft has applied to the FCC to become an approved administrator of such a system, built using technology developed by its research wing, dubbed SenseLess. This would give the company an influential stake in the world’s first attempt to find a new way to free up the airwaves—an approach that is likely to be adopted worldwide. Google and eight other companies have already been granted permission to operate white spaces databases, but they have revealed little of their technology.
Microsoft’s system was recently demonstrated in Las Vegas, where it enabled an Xbox games console to get online using a prototype white spaces device made by startup Adaptrum.
TV spectrum signals have a longer wavelength than Wi-Fi or cellular signals, which means TV spectrum can support longer-range data connections. Microsoft’s trial white spaces network, on its Redmond, Washington, campus, can provide high-speed Internet at a range of over a mile.