One year on from Haiyan:

Microsoft is excited about the potential global benefits from TV White Space technology. The UK is playing a leading role and Ofcom’s White Spaces pilot is being closely watched around the world and includes participants from the US and Japan. We are pleased that Microsoft Azure has now been added to the list of White Spaces Databases (WSDBs) qualified by Ofcom to operate in the UK. Microsoft is currently leading several pilots including with the University of Strathclyde and Scottish Government, as well as with a local ISP and independent lifeboat on the Isle of Wight. Results from these pilot projects have been impressive and point to a bright future for the technology.

One year ago, the Philippines was hit by super-typhoon Haiyan (also known as Typhoon Yolanda). It was unofficially recorded as the strongest typhoon ever in terms of wind speed and also the deadliest typhoon on record in the Philippines. It killed over 6,000 people and affected over 11 million; leaving many homeless.

The disasters wiped out communications in the region, greatly slowing local and international response and relief efforts. In one of the worst affected areas, Tacloban City, there was little communication and no mobile phone coverage. This situation was repeated in many parts of Leyte Island with many remaining without power and communications for more than a month.

This communications challenge was in part alleviated by utilising pioneering TV White Space technology. The term, TV White Space spectrum, refers to frequencies in the VHF and UHF television broadcast bands that are either unassigned or unused by existing broadcasters or other licensees and could be used to deliver broadband access, services and applications. TV White Space devices and networks work in much the same way as conventional Wi-Fi, but because the TV signals travel over longer distances and better penetrate walls and other obstacles, they require fewer access points to cover the same area. In the UK, Ofcom is overseeing a number of pilots to look at how the technology can be used to supplement existing mobile 4G and 3G networks.

In the Philippines, Microsoft had already entered into a partnership with a number of Governmental departments to monitor fishing stocks using TV whitespaces technology. However, when disaster struck the technology was able to be rapidly re-deployed to help in the disaster relief efforts in Bohol and in Palo, Leyte: one of the areas hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan. For the first time in history, TV White Space technologies were used in a disaster zone to expand the reach of communications solutions such as satellite links.

When the disaster struck, white space technology was deployed to help in the relief effort
When the disaster struck, white space technology was deployed to help in the relief effort

November 07, 2014


Dondi Mapa, National Technology Officer, Microsoft Philippines, says, “Many of the cell towers were on top of buildings, and all the buildings were wiped out by the typhoon. When a disaster causes this level of impact, it becomes very difficult to establish a cellular network in the traditional sense. A TV White Space network typically has four times the range and 16 times the coverage of a comparable higher frequency solution. By using TV White Space technologies, it was possible to share a satellite signal to sites as far as ten kilometers away. Instead of having survivors queueing around the central command centres where the VSATs are located, it becomes possible to establish connectivity centres in the evacuation areas where survivors have received shelter.”

White Spaces technology has been showing its value in other parts of the world too. In Africa, it has been used to provide Internet access in an increasing number of remote communities.