Microsoft’s Airband TV White Spaces initiative is a project that plans to bring broadband to 2 million rural Americans by 2022, beginning in Michigan and Wisconsin. Microsoft is partnering with Packerland Broadband (a division of CCI Systems). The companies are aiming for speeds of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream for a fixed wireless deployment in rural Michigan and Wisconsin that will use TV white spaces and other technologies, said Cory Heigl, vice president for Packerland Broadband. The technology is “maturing pretty rapidly” and the companies hope manufacturers will support 25/3 Mbps speeds by year-end, Heigl said in a phone interview with Telecompetitor.
Packerland will use a mix of technologies to provide broadband to its customers in rural communities, including TV White Spaces and Wi-Fi hardware developed with support from Microsoft, to extend the reach of its existing hybrid fiber-coax and wireless delivery platforms. TV white spaces technology uses vacant TV broadcast spectrum and has excellent propagation, making it well suited to serve locations lacking a clear line of sight to the base station.
Packerland expects to cover approximately 33,750 people by the end of 2019, and approximately 82,000 people by 2022. As part of the Packerland-Microsoft project, Packerland will provide Windows devices, Office 365 and other cloud-based services to small businesses, consumers and students, as well as digital literacy skills training. Packerland will also leverage Microsoft Azure as part of its operations management.
When Microsoft announced Airband plans in July 2017, the company said TV white spaces will be the best approach to reaching communities with population densities between two and 200 people per square mile, while areas with lower population densities would be best served by satellite and those in areas with more than 200 people per square mile would be best served with fiber-to-the-home. Soon after Microsoft announced their initiative in July, AT&T and NetComm Wireless announced a plan to bring fixed-wireless broadband to 18 states.
Around 34 million Americans, including 19.4 million people living in rural parts of the US, don’t have adequate broadband, according to the release. About 43% of rural Wisconsin and 34% of rural Michigan lack proper internet access and thus miss out on the benefits it can offer, Microsoft said.
“Northern Wisconsin is nothing but forest,” making it challenging to use other wireless technologies, observed Heigl. Distances covered are expected to range from about one to four miles, Heigl added.
The Microsoft – Packerland service, which will also tap other fixed wireless and wired technologies, is targeted to be available to 33,750 people by the end of 2019 and approximately 82,000 people by 2022. This deployment is one of 12 projects planned as part of the Microsoft Airband TV White spaces initiative, which aims to bring broadband to 2 million people in rural America by 2022.
“This partnership with Packerland Broadband will help us address the rural broadband gap in northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. “Broadband has become the electricity of the 21st century, essential for education, business, agriculture and health care. Microsoft’s Airband Initiative is focused on bringing this necessity of life to 2 million people in rural counties by 2022.”
“Partnering with Microsoft allows us to bring new services and push our services further into the rural landscape in our region and beyond,” said Cory Heigl, vice president of Packerland Broadband. “We are the people we serve, and in this part of the world, we want to make an impact for the better. Our partnership with Microsoft will help us to influence lives by improving at-home education, enhancing economic opportunities, keeping up with health care advancements and furthering the agricultural innovation of our rural communities.”
“The mission of TechSpark Wisconsin is to bring new digital solutions to our region,” said Microsoft TechSpark Wisconsin Manager Michelle Schuler. “Packerland Broadband and Microsoft are making it possible for people living in rural Wisconsin to have the same opportunities to live, learn and work as people living in connected cities. That’s win-win for the people living here and the region’s economy.”
CCI Systems, Inc. CEO John Jamar said, “We have been focused on making life better by connecting people through innovative communications networks, and we are enthused to team up with our friends at Microsoft to accelerate that.”
“The time is right for the nation to set a clear and ambitious but achievable goal – to eliminate the rural broadband gap within the next five years by July 4, 2022, “said Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer at Microsoft in a blog post announcing the project. “We believe the nation can bring broadband coverage to rural America in this timeframe, based on a new strategic approach that combines private sector capital investments focused on expanding broadband coverage through new technologies, coupled with targeted and affordable public-sector support.”