Microsoft’s Spectrum Observatory project opens up for increased collaboration

AnoopGupta150x225On March 31, we released all of the source code for the Microsoft Spectrum Observatory under an open source software license, a move that will increase opportunity for collaboration with academics, governments and others interested in learning more about how wireless spectrum is used.

Spectrum, the airwaves over which wireless devices communicate, is in increasing demand throughout the world. As mobile broadband access is expanded further than ever before and unprecedented numbers of smart devices come online, efficiently using the wireless spectrum that is available to us becomes more and more important.

We created the Microsoft Spectrum Observatory to provide a more intuitive presentation of how spectrum is used in locations throughout the world. The observatory collects frequency usage data from sensor base stations located around the world. At each location, monitoring stations record data and send the data up to the Microsoft Azure cloud to be stored and processed for visualization. Users can then go online to the observatory website to generate detailed reports and graphs showing spectrum usage in each location.

The data provided by the Spectrum Observatory is particularly useful for government regulators throughout the world, who are increasingly looking for new methods of managing spectrum that are more flexible and efficient. Under current licensing systems, access to most spectrum bands is limited to a strict set of users and applications, resulting in a significant amount of spectrum that’s unused in any given time or place.

In many countries, including the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada and Singapore, regulators are moving to open up certain frequencies for spectrum sharing. These new, more flexible licensing regimes would allow a wide range of users to tap into unused spectrum to power wireless devices, as long as they obey certain technical rules. Using data from the Spectrum Observatory, regulators are able to examine how spectrum bands are being used under the current licensing system, and which spectrum bands might be good candidates to make available for sharing in the future.

Whether regulators, academia or other interested parties, we continue to welcome new partners for this effort throughout the world. Our newest addition, a station in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, expands our current reach to 11 stations on three continents. The station is maintained by the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), with whom we also partner on a white space pilot designed to bring affordable wireless broadband access to universities in Dar es Salaam. Currently, the Spectrum Observatory also includes stations across the U.S. in Redmond, Wash.; Seattle; Washington D.C. and Cambridge, Mass., as well as a station in Brussels, Belgium.

We look forward to adding more locations, and we continue to work to keep costs low and make it easier for others to participate in the project. We are now able to support radio frequency sensors that are significantly less expensive, bringing the total hardware cost for setting up a Spectrum Observatory Station to under $5,000, with the goal of getting this amount to around $1,000.

While we are pleased with our progress to date, we recognize that we are only scratching the surface on how spectrum is being used and how it could be used more efficiently. We welcome feedback and look forward to working with more partners in government, academia and industry to increase the quantity and improve the quality of spectrum measurements, which will better inform conversations about how spectrum can be used more efficiently over time.

About the Author

Lead Software Development Engineer, Technology Policy Group, Microsoft