Microsoft to use TV Airwaves for Internet 'Super WiFi'

John Lister's picture

Microsoft wants to use unused TV frequencies to provide Internet service in rural areas. It believes its size could help bring down the costs of the technology.

The system is known as white-spaces technology and uses wireless frequencies that are in the band reserved for over-the-air TV broadcasts but aren't currently being used. While Microsoft plans to use some of these frequencies, it wants the government to reserve at least three frequencies in each local area for use with the technology. (Source:

Tech Works Like WiFi

In principle, wireless Internet signals can be sent over these frequencies in exactly the same way as with WiFi. Because the frequencies are much lower than those used for WiFi, the signals can travel much further, in the same way as signals go from TV relay stations to household aerials. The signals can also pass through concrete, so it could work even in places where cellphone signals are too weak for mobile broadband.

The idea is to reach areas where cable or phone lines aren't viable for providing Internet service, areas which Microsoft says are home to around 24 million people. It says that in such areas, the white-spaces technology is the best option for all but the most sparsely populated land where satellite remains the only viable technology. (Source:

Microsoft Says It Won't Profit

Microsoft is now working with local Internet providers to share set-up costs in pilot projects in 12 states. It says any profits it makes will be reinvested in expanding provision. The logic seems to be that getting more people online is inherently beneficial for tech giants such as Microsoft.

The downside is that the technology needs special equipment both in the user's home and at relay stations. At the moment the home equipment - in effect a specialist modem and router - costs around $1,000. Microsoft says it can bring economies of scale to get that down to under $200 by next year. As for the Internet service itself, although it'll effectively be a monopoly provision, Microsoft says monthly fees should be "price competitive" with the type of charges people in cities pay for cable.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you believe the technology is viable? Is $200 a reasonable sum to pay for equipment if it's the only viable way to get online? Should the government make sure frequencies are kept clear for the technology?

Rate this article: 
Average: 4.8 (5 votes)


Dennis Faas's picture

With the way Wifi works: if you are browsing a web page and click a link, that 'click' needs to be sent back to the Wifi hub so the next set of pages are received through Wifi signal. Since the Wifi signals are being received over very far distances, that means the "send" band must be sent over another method - most likely through a land line or broadband Internet connection.

That is most likely why there is a special modem required to use the service. That said, paying $1,000 up front for a modem is pretty expensive. The other thing I was wondering about is how fast the Internet speed would be. From an article written in 2015 which talks about Wifi at Seattle Center in Seattle, Washington - the speeds were 802.11ab which means roughly 11 megabits per second which is approximately 1.3 megabytes per second. That's not exactly blazing fast but it's better than standard DSL 6 megabit which is about 750-550kb/sec.

buzzallnight's picture

It should be completely free.

matt_2058's picture

If this system needs a landline to make the uplink connection, will the download be faster than satellite service? 2015 research is old in tech years, so I can't imagine those results haven't been improved upon. As for cost, $200 for a modem/router is the going rate for high-end routers now, so no big deal.

Hughes Satellite service is not all that attractive, but the only option for some people. Hopefully this service will offer more data at a much better price than the satellite service.

And yes, the government should allocate the freqs if the service can produce and is viable. They allocate it for every other interest.