Plenty of companies have come up with interesting ways to help bridge the digital divide by delivering internet access to areas that aren’t well served by wired or cellular networks. Google is trying balloons. Facebook is trying drones (something that Google has already tried and abandoned). Now Microsoft has another idea: TV signals.
The advantage is that the technology can send signals over long distances without using wires. And since those wireless signals can go through obstacles including concrete walls, the solution could reach places that even cellular networks struggle with.
You do need some special equipment to take advantage of the system though. Federal and state regulators need to approve the use of the wireless spectrum… which may or may not happen, since TV broadcasters have expressed concern that the use of white spaces for internet delivery could interfere with TV signals.
And home or business users will need to buy expensive receivers to get online using the technology (although Microsoft things the price will fall from $1000 this year to less than $200 next year, making the devices about the price of a high-end WiFi router).
Microsoft plans to demonstrate the technology at an event in New York today, and the company expects to start offering service in 12 states soon, but Microsoft doesn’t really plan to become an internet service provider itself. Instead the company is developing the technology and plans to work with local ISPs.
The company has been testing the technology in a series of pilot projects for almost a decade.
It’s unclear what kind of speed or reliability users would be able to expect from the service if and when it’s widely rolled out. I doubt it’ll be competitive with cable or fiber anytime soon. But in places that aren’t well served by existing ISPs, some form of internet is certainly a better option than no internet at all.