For the first time ever, there was a Master Class focused on rural communities held two weeks ago as part of the annual summit of the Intelligent Community Forum. There were people from Europe, the USA and Canada, Asia and as far away as New Zealand in the class.
Part of the focus of the class was on how rural areas can get broadband. Too often there is the assumption that broadband and fiber optics are the same thing.
One of my former colleagues used to describe the passion of some broadband advocates for fiber connections as a kind of “Fiber Taliban”. But while fiber makes economic sense in densely populated urban areas, it becomes very expensive to deploy in the countryside. As a practical matter, exclusive use of fiber is a dream that stands in the way of getting broadband to the countryside. This may be one situation where, as the old line goes, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”
In the class, I pointed out that just as there isn’t only one way for a person to get from Point A to Point B, there isn’t only one way for a person to get broadband.
Like many people, I used to think that the laws of physics provide a natural cap on the amount of data that can go through the air. And, in a theoretical sense, that is still true. But the engineers have nevertheless made dramatic improvements.
Verizon Wireless, for example, now usually range of 10-20 MB, although in NYC, it’s been independently measured above 30. Its 4G is, according to Verizon, ten times the speed of 3G.
A couple of weeks ago, Huawei promised more.
Huawei Technologies officials say the giant tech vendor has successfully tested a WiFi service that hit more than 10 gigabits per second, a speed that is 10 times faster than what is currently commercially available.
There are a variety of ways that data can travel over the air. The most well-established, alternatives include satellite, Wi-Fi and standard fixed wireless. Free space optics, pictured below, offers a large pipe that can be especially useful for rugged territory.
Also of interest is the future use of “white space” as television goes digital.
And balloons, which act as flexible and inexpensive towers. Google has proposed balloons at high altitudes. But even below the aviation floor of 500 feet, balloons can provide coverage over a wide swath of countryside.
The Internet protocol doesn’t care what the communications medium is, so you can combine different methods to provide broadband to different kinds of places
By the way, there is also a lesson here in another important aspect of deploying broadband into the countryside – funding it. The most successful broadband projects have usually combined more than one purpose:
- High speed communications
- Education and libraries
- Business development
- Smart grid and management of other infrastructure
This combination opens up more sources of funds and means more people have a reason to use the broadband, thus making the project successful and sustainable.
This is a natural approach in really remote places. A couple of the folks in the class came from Wanganui in New Zealand. That town’s Mayor described their bottom up approach in which each farmer extends the network further into the countryside. And, if you’re thinking this is just some semi-rural, small town place, look at this picture of what their broadband project eventually has to cover.
- Free Space optics – http://www.fastlinks-wireless.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/free-space-optics-570.jpg
- White space – http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-cH593vvGhzM/Twdza7jYyUI/AAAAAAAAQkU/FWuvh3KP54U/s1600/AWR-white-space-radio-outdoor-mounting.png 80 gig
- Helikite balloon – http://www.allsopphelikites.com/
- Waverly, Whangui, New Zealand – Google Earth
©2014 Norman Jacknis