Dec 18, 2020 Telecom

The Journey to Building Intelligent Rural Networks - Part 2

By Nermin Mohamed, Head of Telecommunications Solutions at Wind River

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In Part 1 of our blog series, we looked at the gaps in rural broadband connectivity that affect everything from health care to education and employment opportunities. There is a clear need to build smart connected rural networks that provide better opportunities to Americans living outside urban centers.

Certainly, everyone should have access to the digital economy, high-quality education, and the best possible health care. To make that happen, though, requires identifying and then fixing the gaps in broadband connectivity that have isolated our rural communities. Large parts of rural America, for example, still don’t have the infrastructure to support high-speed internet. Even when they do, the service tends to be slower than in urban and suburban areas. Closing this digital divide requires a commitment to building intelligent rural networks.

The promise and power of the intelligent rural network

Imagine a broadband network that covers every single village, town, and city of America. Imagine fast, secure, and reliable internet at an affordable price—no matter where you live. Imagine the power of connecting fully wired smart cities to the 5G clever countryside, building a nationwide economic network that provides a wide range of opportunities for everyone.

That’s the promise of the intelligent rural network. It has the power to transform our rural communities, providing residents with the same broadband speed and coverage as those living in urban centers. Access to the digital economy, remote education, and high-quality health care will no longer depend on where you live. As the pandemic has shown us in 2020, access to fast, secure, and reliable internet is a quality of life issue.

Leveraging the potential of 5G

The intelligent rural network will require speed, capacity, and affordability. At a minimum, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission defines high-speed internet as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

To create this intelligent rural network means investing in 5G technology for both wireless and fixed networks. The 5G standard empowers a broader scope of use cases than ever before, with faster speeds, wider coverage areas, and improved security from the previous 4G networks.

It’s no use building this new network if people can’t afford it. And that’s where the intelligent edge comes in. It moves real-time computing power close to where it’s generated, meaning easier deployments and lower operational costs. Combining 5G with the intelligent edge can provide the same workload performance with less overhead, resulting in significantly lower cost. And when building the intelligent rural network, keeping costs under control will be a key factor in making it affordable to everyone.

Unlocking rural potential

Not all rural areas are the same, just as no two cities are really alike. Let’s take a closer look at how the connectivity of 5G + Intelligent Edge could work in different kinds of rural areas.

Farming in the 21st century isn’t just planting crops and looking up at the sky to gauge the next rainfall. Farmers today use a full array of drones, sensors, and other high-tech equipment to monitor crops, track weather patterns, and make decisions on when to harvest and where to sell. Big data has definitely entered the farming world and with it comes the demand for high-speed, reliable connectivity.

Not all rural communities, though, are farming communities. Some are rich in natural resources, located in mountains or near lakes with tourism potential that support local businesses and provide local employment. Servicing these areas with high-speed broadband not only increases their appeal to travelers who expect high-speed internet, it also means the residents can bid for remote work opportunities that only fast and secure internet can support.

Where do we start?

Carriers have already started activating their 5G networks, but so far, only in large urban areas. Unless we commit to nationwide coverage in all areas, our rural communities will fall further behind in the connectivity sweepstakes. Building intelligent rural networks will require strong partnerships, detailed and complex plans, and cross-industry cooperation.

In part 3 of our blog series, we’ll look at how to make intelligent rural networks a reality, examining the role of CSPs, the challenges of such a huge endeavor, and how Wind River is already partnering across industries to bring higher-quality digital life to rural communities.

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