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April 02, 2014

Carlson Wireless Turns TV White Space into Affordable Rural Wi-Fi Connectivity

Touting themselves as the “leaders in TV white space,” Carlson Wireless Technologies has an interesting strategy when it comes to bringing Internet connectivity to rural and hard to reach geographic areas. The company recently participated in the Super Wi-Fi Summit at ITEXPO in Miami and spoke to TMC’s Erik Linask about how they are taking advantage of unused UHF TV spectrum to provide affordable Internet connectivity.

“From our standpoint, we’ve taken what was originally a Wi-Fi connection that would go 300 to 500 feet and we’re making it go three to five miles,” said Jim Carlson, CEO of Carlson Wireless. “We’re able to backhaul your typical Wi-Fi connection by using the UHF television frequencies that are vacant in rural areas and basically backhaul that from a village that has, say, a 20,000 population to a village that has a 5,000 population and light that up with some hotspots for the lowest potential cost.”

That’s quite a value proposition, particularly when talking about remote areas of Africa and southeast Asia that often don’t even have mobile connectivity. According to Hiroshi Hirada, director of the Smart Wireless Lab at the National Institute of Information and Communications Technologies (NICT), Japan, it would be cost prohibitive to run fiber to many remote areas, and yet some type of connectivity needs to be kick started. Carlson’s super Wi-Fi offering provides an ideal option at a low price point. “We need to consider reducing the digital divide,” said Hirada. “We need to provide wireless connection to these areas.”

Carlson’s RuralConnect solution provides non-line-of-sight broadband connectivity using UHF TV white space, at 470 to 698 MHz frequencies, which the company says provide superior signal propagation. RuralConnect is capable of penetrating foliage and can bounce around hills, making it an excellent fit for rugged and remote terrains that cannot be served by traditional line-of-sight radio technology.

And Carlson adds that the solution is affordable, since capital startup costs are low and getting that first hotspot set up is the primary factor in enabling connectivity. He said in many instances, governments are funding the equipment costs and the company has seen cases in Africa in which missionary organizations are footing the bill to get schools connected. Once the hotspots are in place, maintenance costs are relatively low.

Carlson is also a mediator when it comes to regulatory issues, working to help licensed and unlicensed spectrum and users coexist without conflict. “We don’t have any plans to interfere with other systems,” added Hirada. He said Carlson offers a spectrum database to help keep track of frequencies and users and make sure the regulatory requirements of various regions are met.

And remote areas of the world aren’t the only target for this new type of connectivity. Carlson Wireless believes it has potential for a number of vertical industries, including construction and utilities where line of sight is not always possible. It can also be used for smart metering and “smart cities” in which municipalities use hotspots to control energy usage.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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