Big tech firms back Wi-FAR for remote broadband

802.22 standard, approved in 2011, promises low-cost broadband for remote areas

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At the time, Carlson said the FCC's approval would give a boost to global efforts to use whitespace technology. "Providing connectivity to underserved populations worldwide is more than an interest to us," he said in a statement. "It's our corporate mission."

RuralConnect will get competition from products in other companies, including Redline, Adaptrum and 6Harmonics, Carlson said. In addition to other providers, Google has built a whitespace database that Carlson is testing.

In all, Carlson Wireless has piloted dozens of whitespace projects, and expects to start its largest yet for 30 base stations and 5,000 users near New Delhi in the next six months, Carlson said.

"India is the next big boom for online needs, and the rural areas are not getting [Internet service] with [typical] mobile systems," Carlson said. "So they are choosing to go with the TV whitespace because the UHF band is almost all vacant in rural areas and 600 MHz propagation is superb."

While Carlson has been working with Google, Microsoft separately announced in June a whitespace pilot project at the University of Limpopo in South Africa. It is part of a Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative to help ignite economic development in Africa.

In May, Microsoft and Facebook joined with SpectraLink Wireless to announce a whitespace project for students and faculty at universities in Koforidua, Ghana. That project brought the number of nations where Microsoft has whitespace pilots to 10 countries on four continents.

In the Microsoft and SpectraLink partnership, Facebook's Connectivity Lab team will lead efforts to better understand how TV whitespace spectrum can support wireless Internet users, according to a statement.

Microsoft and others believe that TV whitespace technology will best work in combination with Wi-Fi and other low-cost wireless technologies. While much of whitespace technology is focused on building specialized bridge hardware for use in base stations, Mody said some companies are developing fixed wireless 802.22 routers, similar in appearance to Wi-Fi routers, that will be placed inside of homes.

Microsoft also spearheaded the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, which Google and Facebook joined last November. The alliance is exploring many uses for whitespace spectrum, including Internet of Things device connectivity.

Craig Mathias, an analyst and wireless consultant for The Farpoint Group, said 802.22 devices may compete against or complement a number of other technologies, including cellular and Wi-Fi.

"802.22 is not a pipe dream, but so far there's not a lot of evidence of its success," Mathias said in an interview. "It does make sense. The rate of innovation in wireless is so high that you hear something exciting every week. But not all wireless standards are successful in terms of having [successful] wireless products."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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