How do you get Broadband to the “Underserved”?

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Broadband is needed everywhere, so much so that even the federal government sees broadband as a utility that is needed by all people. How do you get broadband to the underserved areas?

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In the suburban and country, (remote areas), it is simply a matter of budgets. However, CenturyLink is a company I see serving those areas. They are doing the best they can get wired broadband to that area along with the wireless carriers. I really see Verizon out in some remote areas, deploying LTE too far out areas. This is amazing. Areas that once were thought to be so remote that they can now have your smartphone or laptop connected via LTE signals. WOW!

What about city coverage? They don’t always have the coverage that we think they do, especially in areas where the “payback” is not obvious. This is a recurring theme I hear from cities. The need to make sure that broadband is available in all areas of the city. This seems like a non-negotiable issue. I guess it’s true that broadband is the new utility. As a utility, it assumes that we need it to live or at least live at a quality level of life. Of course, we can all live without electricity or running water, but do we want to? Of course not, not in our daily lives anyway. We want to have broadband as part of our daily lives.

Broadband is more than a luxury or something that’s nice to have. It is the livelihood of so many people, including me, to work efficiently and improve their daily lives. That is what the cities see. They see hundreds of small business taking off, becoming more than just a hobby or a way to play games or even watch TV. Broadband is all of that and more.

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I work and train from home using the internet to do it. I started my side business at home because I have broadband and because work no longer pays for it. I feel no guilt using it for gain and learning new skills, something that if work paid for they might frown upon it. It ain’t free! I pay for it. Work no longer pays for any broadband to the house yet they expect you to have it and work using it. Did you catch that, they expect you to have it. Broadband to the home has become an expectation, not a luxury.

The connection is not free, however. I pay for that, and it is part of my monthly service. I love it and yet I do pay for it and not it’s more important to me than TV on my cable bill. That is a shift in today’s world where cable and the internet would be on the same bill. However, today it’s an expectation.

Back to the smart city saga, they see the need because they want their residents to learn at home, to have the opportunity to work from home, and the bigger opportunity to start their online businesses at home or at least in a nearby office. They see the value is providing value to their residents. They see the success of each person that learns to take advantage of this. They know that broadband is a game changer.

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Now, how do we get the signal to the people? There is always fiber, which is awesome for getting broadband. However, it ain’t cheap, and most companies don’t want to add it to the “underserved” areas of town. You see, the big boys want to see a payback in a timely manner and it may not happen there. The cities are frustrated with this because those are the areas that could benefit the most. It’s a social dilemma because these areas need the opportunities to grow business, but the companies that can make it available to them won’t do it because they don’t see the immediate payback.

Business is business so what many cities are doing is taking the initiative to put broadband in these areas. Since they have fiber in some sections of this part of town, they are starting to rely on Wi-Fi to get the signal to the people. It’s what we used to call Muni Wi-Fi, municipal Wi-Fi where Wi-Fi covers the city, area by area. This way the people can connect for a reasonable price and almost anywhere they are near the hotspot.

For some examples of Muni Wi-Fi, take a look at the FierceWireless article here, about how Wi-Fi is getting better.

To be honest, many of these initiatives have not been overwhelmingly successful. Not always a failure either. Somewhere in between, I would say. However, for the area where they don’t have anything else, it is a game changer for the residents, if they are ready 5g-deployment-plan-front-cover-3k-pixelsfor it. In today’s world, we have every device with Wi-Fi in it, smartphones and laptops and Kindles and iPads. While these are all high-end devices, I really don’t know more than 10 people that don’t have a smartphone. The ones that don’t have smartphones really could care less about the internet, so let’s not talk about them.

Let’s speak of the thousands of people that not only have it but rely on Wi-Fi to offload their smartphone data. Many times Wi-Fi works better than the carrier’s system unless you have a great LTE connection. While new formats are coming out in 2018, Wi-fi is already here and in almost every device. It can really help these areas if you educate the people.

Educate people? What does that mean? It means tell them it’s there! To do this, you need to get the word to them so that they know it’s there. Wi-Fi hotspots are very limited so most people may not see it. They might not know where to go to get connectivity. It is the city’s job to educate them, let them know it’s available, and what they should pay for it or how long it is free. Most people love free, including me. Let them know it’s there by other means!

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Just because it’s there doesn’t mean people will come, it’s not the “Field of Dreams” just yet, do your part. Make sure that the word gets out, and the people know what the terms are. It’s like when you go to the airport, and the Wi-Fi is only free for an hour. You usually read it on a billboard or see it on a screen or kiosk before you read the acceptance terms on your smartphone or laptop. Well, you may read it on your laptop, but probably not your smartphone.

Then you have some dedicated fans who are so grateful that you provided Wi-Fi for them. Getting the word out has been a major problem in the past. However, in the present, the cable companies have done a great job in letting you know where they have Wi-fi available and how long you can use it for free.

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To get Wi-Fi out there it is not easy. There are 3 major things you need, 1) backhaul, 2) mounting assets with power, and 3) Equipment. All the rest will come together, but most people think you can mount anywhere. Without power and backhaul and a place to mount, your equipment is useless. It takes time and money to plan this out. I often see how people think it’s like putting a hotspot in your home, but it is not. While you’re not building towers, you still need an installation crew to mount it somewhere and have a backhaul plan in place. Remember that this is a professional installation, not something you plug-in, drop and run.

If you’re in the rural areas, then you know that Wi-Fi is not a viable solution. There is just too much area to cover. We need to rely on fiber, cable, copper, and licensed wireless to cover these broad areas. They need to have it available where the people are. It’s going to continue to be a problem. While VSAT, satellite, is a viable option, it hasn’t panned out so well. It just never really served the way we all hoped, the delays were high, and when the transponder gets loaded, everybody gets slow. Slow sucks! We all have the need for speed, not the patience for connection issues. This will be an issue.

The smart city has many options. They need to consider each one and figure out who will pay for it.

That is a high overview on one thing that I see in all cities, the need for broadband speed. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon. People rely on broadband for more and more in their everyday lives. So getting it to them in some way is critical!

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

See Ya!

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