Posted by Paul Garnett
Director, Technology Policy Group, Microsoft

At Microsoft, we have long worked in partnership with others in government, industry, academia and civil society to advance emerging technologies and create new opportunities for ICT access and innovation throughout the world. Today at the Global Summit on Dynamic Spectrum Access and TV White Spaces in Singapore, we announced our participation in the newly-formed Dynamic Spectrum Alliance. This will be a new global, cross-industry group focused on policy and regulatory advocacy with the aim of expanding dynamic and opportunistic access to unused radio spectrum – the frequencies we rely upon for wireless connectivity and bandwidth.

The Dynamic Spectrum Alliance is made up of 23 companies and organizations from across the world, each bringing different perspectives to the table. Though we may not agree on all topics, we have worked to find common ground and will use that shared purpose to accelerate the momentum this technology is already gaining globally. A core focus area for the group will be enabling unlicensed (Wi-Fi-like) access to the unused TV band frequencies, which are particularly well-suited for long-range connections at low power.

While this might sound quite technical, in reality it boils down to introducing new wireless technologies to unlock and piece together the heretofore unused radio frequencies to expand the reach, increase the bandwidth and reduce the cost of wireless connectivity – literally taking frequencies previously considered worthless and turning them into broadband gold. We, and a growing cadre of governments, academics, companies and other organizations around the world, think that the approach we are proposing can represent a win-win solution for consumers and societies.

One key sign of worldwide progress in this area is the proliferation of pilot projects using the spectrum technology. While completed trials by Microsoft and others have already confirmed the technical feasibility of dynamic spectrum access, we and others are testing potential models for commercialization in pilots and projects around the world, including our current efforts in Singapore, Kenya and Tanzania. More importantly perhaps, we also are assessing the human and social impact of these technologies and business models.

Here in Singapore, we’re working with a range of private and public partners (including several Dynamic Spectrum Alliance members), who form the Singapore White Spaces Pilot Group. Together, we conduct pilot projects utilizing unused TV channels (the TV white spaces) to solve issues central to life in a port city such as ensuring Internet access for boats in the harbor. In Kenya, we are using entirely solar-powered white space base stations to deliver low-cost access and device charging to underserved communities and their schools, healthcare clinics and government offices.

However, pilots aren’t the only indicator of global momentum. In the past months, we’ve seen significant regulatory progress as well. Just today, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), announced plans to move forward with required regulatory changes. This step puts IDA in good company with other innovative regulators worldwide that have recognized and moved to act on the potential of TV white spaces and license-exempt dynamic spectrum access. Most recently, the United Kingdom’s regulator, Ofcom, and the Canadian regulator, Industry Canada, have announced plans for full implementation of the technology in 2014. In the U.S., the FCC is continuing efforts to free up more white spaces spectrum. Efforts by these and other regulators worldwide are commendable steps toward delivering wider scale consumer benefits from this important technology.

We encourage all organizations with an interest in these emerging technologies to partner with us and governments, as well as to join the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance. Together, we can take full advantage of the opportunities that technology offers to improve quality of life throughout the world.