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Microsoft to track European spectrum usage

Microsoft has announced the launch of its European Spectrum Observatory, to help provide insight into how spectrum is used today and how more effective use of the spectrum can accelerate the availability of wireless broadband access. The ‘observatory’ is located at Microsoft’s Cloud and Interoperability Centre in Brussels. It joind its other observatories in the US cities of Seattle, Redmond and Washington DC.

David Tennenhouse, Corporate VP at Microsoft’s Technology Policy Group, explained that the unit was created to provide a common repository for spectrum usage data to be collected and analysed:

“With the Observatory we hope to give regulators the latest information on the usage of wireless spectrum and to help inform their decisions on which spectrum bands are the most appropriate near term targets for expanded spectrum sharing.”

According to Microsoft, current wireless networks and business models will struggle to deliver the broadband access desired by individuals, businesses. The reason, says the vendor, is the way spectrum is presently allocated. By retaining an out-moded model developed around the limitations of legacy radio technologies, it says “wide swaths of spectrum” continue to be statically dedicated to a particular use, even if they are not fully utilised.

Instead, Microsoft advocates a more dynamic approach to spectrum management, so that spectrum utilisation can be substantially increased, thereby alleviating this bottleneck to wireless broadband access. Of course, Microsoft’s prime interest at the moment (as well as being seen to play nice with the European authorities), is in White Space spectrum – frequency allocated to broadcasting services but not actually used, acting as guard bands between channels. With the switch to digital, this spectrum is becoming available for re-use.

William Webb, CTO of Microsoft’s partner Neul – a company which develops technology for M2M applications using white space spectrum – believes the TV white spaces band represents the first opportunity to utilise dynamic spectrum technologies:

“TV White Spaces a represent a creative, tested and low-cost way of extending fast broadband access to people in underserved communities, addressing the rapid proliferation of machine applications and facilitating the increasing demand for bandwidth... [this] coupled with the possibility of global harmonisation, makes it the ideal solution for innovative new applications and technologies.”

With regulators around the world taking steps toward opening the TV band white spaces for license-exempt use, Microsoft obviously sees an important new business developing. Its new observatory will record spectrum usage data through monitoring stations and then stores and processes it for visualization through its Windows Azure cloud. Tennenhouse adds:

“We are looking forward to working closely with the European Commission and national regulators to bring about the necessary regulatory changes to make this exciting technology possible.”

Last week, the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow opened its new Centre for White Space Communications, to develop and apply dynamic spectrum technology to tap into unused white space spectrum capacity. Microsoft is one of the commercial partners, together with BT and the broadcaster the BBC.

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