By Nermin Mohamed, Head of Telecommunications Solutions at Wind River
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. In Part 2 , we explored how the combination of 5G + Intelligent Edge for fixed and wireless networks can connect rural communities to the rest of the country, providing remote education, work, and health care to everyone, no matter where they live.
In this third and final part of the series, we’ll look at how partnerships and technology can be leveraged to build cost-efficient intelligent rural networks.
Intelligent rural networks based on 5G must deliver the essential requirements of extremely low latency, high availability, security, and flexibility. Simultaneously, these networks must be extremely robust, resilient, and flexible. While everyone seems to agree on the concept of providing high-speed broadband to rural areas, there are several factors to be addressed in moving from concept to reality.
Engaging rural consumers
For too long, rural communities have been told that it is too expensive to build high-speed networks out from urban areas to their local towns and to houses and farms scattered over miles. The demand is clearly there, as any small-town library can confirm. Using free high-speed Wi-Fi has become as popular (or more!) as borrowing books in rural locations. In some towns, people sit in their cars after hours to get online for job searches, schoolwork, or video chats with faraway friends and family.
These communities need intelligent rural networks that cover not only town centers but also the “last mile” to homes and farms and mountain cabins. The power of 5G can bring them economic prosperity as well as social connectivity.
To fully engage these communities, rural networks must be cost-effective as well as fast and secure. That will require creating partnerships with those communities, service providers, and infrastructure providers, as well as with government agencies, such as The Federal Communications Commission, which has designated funds for rural networking projects. Working together, these groups can ensure that cost-effective, fast connectivity is no longer reserved just for urban areas of the country.
The role of communication service providers (CSPs)
Building out rural networks provides a unique opportunity for CSPs to accelerate the speed and affordability of those networks by using a combination of 5G and intelligent edge capabilities. CSPs can leverage their experience rolling out 5G in urban areas to mitigate the risks and challenges of building out into rural communities. All three of the major US wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile/Sprint) have now launched 5G networks. With each build, they are gaining valuable experience in planning and executing 5G connectivity.
The promise of Open RAN for rural networks
RAN (Radio Network Access) is the "last mile" of a network, the visible link from the network to a mobile phone. Operators have been working to open up RAN protocols and remove dependency on single-vendor systems. Already, large operators such as Orange, Vodafone, and MTN are planning to use virtual (vRAN) and Open RAN to bring coverage to new markets, because it provides more choices for equipment providers, lower TCO, and it is easier to upgrade parts as needed.
For rural networks where cost is a large factor in deploying new networks or upgrading outdated ones, Open RAN provides the opportunity for competitive bidding and frees CSPs to choose the best technical solutions for the situation, rather than being tied to single-vendor offerings. When talking about rural connectivity, Open RAN plus 5G create a promising combination.
Leveraging the intelligent edge and AI analytics to reduce costs
Past projects have shown that the costs involved in standing up networks over a large physical area have been considerable. Pushing the full cost of rural networks directly onto consumers would most likely render the services unaffordable to most people, which has been one of the big hurdles of providing faster, better coverage to rural areas. Intelligent rural networks can leverage powerful new technology like distributed clouds and edge computing to bring down the cost.
Rural networks will also require remote, large-scale management and monitoring. End-to-end automation and AI-based analytics as integral parts of the network design and implementation can work to lower ongoing costs, as well as keep networks up and running efficiently. Given the large geographical areas involved, these management and monitoring tools also need to work remotely so that when issues arise, they can be handled quickly by technical staff.
Wind River: a partner in this journey
It is more critical than ever for people to be connected to each other and to the information that can bring them economic and social prosperity. Wind River is proud to be at the forefront of closing the digital divide and bringing 21st century broadband to rural areas across America.
We have been actively investing in building the future-connected world, including faster, better networks in rural communities. Partnering with CSPs and other vendors around the world, we are working to transform the economics of networking by converging hardwired and wireless infrastructure and services into fast, secure, and cost-efficient networks through use cases such as vRAN and others. This makes connecting people and reaching underserved communities both efficient and affordable.
Wind River technologies can address operators’ complex needs and provide the critical infrastructure required to reach underserved rural communities, from a distributed cloud to automation and analytics:
• Production-grade distributed Kubernetes distributed cloud platform for managing edge cloud infrastructure. Based on the open source StarlingX project, it compiles best-in-class open source technology to deploy and manage distributed networks.
• Full automation from core to intelligent edge. Select applications, deploy them to a carrier-grade cloud platform, and orchestrate the resources needed for the applications simply, intuitively, and logically. Scale from a handful of nodes to thousands of nodes in a geographically dispersed distributed environment.
• Analytics that use machine-learning algorithms to collect, analyze, and visualize cloud behavioral data to manage and optimize infrastructure and services while reducing operational costs.
From the distributed cloud to intelligent edge solutions, Wind River is ready to work with CSPs to enable cost-effective, wide-scale broadband networking for rural communities, delivering on the promise of 5G for everyone, regardless of location.
We are optimistic that collaboration among all stake holders, from small towns and government organizations to vendors and carriers, can plan and build these networks, unlocking the potential of the digital economy, education, and health care for our rural citizens.