Demand for broadband services to unserved or underserved rural communities has been a topic among governments worldwide for more than two decades. While there has been some government funding directed toward rural connectivity in prior years, the global COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency to close the digital divide.
Demand for broadband services to unserved or underserved rural communities has been a topic among governments worldwide for more than two decades.
High-speed broadband connectivity is now considered a critical service. Most families are operating virtually – adults working from home; children distance-learning; medical needs addressed via telemedicine; and work, entertainment, social gatherings, and family milestone events occurring virtually – all delivered via the internet. This has left the millions who live in rural areas throughout the world at a disadvantage—because access to high-speed broadband service is simply not available.
Recognizing the increased urgency to address rural connectivity in the United States, the country’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created an unprecedented $20 billion fund to motivate mobile operators and service providers to construct broadband networks in underserved and unserved areas. Known as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), the funds are awarded through a reverse auction process mandating that recipients plan, implement, and complete these rural broadband networks within a six-year period.
The first RDOF grants, totaling $9.2 billion, will provide high-speed broadband to 5.2 million unserved or underserved homes and businesses. The largest grant was awarded to LTD Broadband, a regional service provider that will expand its current network serving five states, to serve an additional 500,000 homes and businesses across 15 states. LTD Broadband has worked with Aviat on past projects and has selected Aviat to support its RDOF buildout using Aviat WTM 4000 microwave and multi-band platform systems for middle-mile connectivity and fiber redundancy.
According to Corey Hauer, CEO of LTD Broadband, there are significant business advantages to working with Aviat, with experience in similar rural broadband rollouts:
- All-outdoor, Multi-gigabit Wireless Systems (WTM 4000 platform) with the capacity and throughput to deliver one-gigabit service to subscribers;
- Link Planning Software (Aviat Design) enabling service providers to plan their Gig-speed wireless links quickly and efficiently, and;
- E-commerce Purchasing Hub (Aviat Store) for fast, efficient purchasing. The simplicity and short lead times enable the delivery of licensed microwave links within two weeks, or in some urgent instances, in a matter of days, to ensure that deployments are fast, and subscribers can be onboarded quickly.
Global fund initiatives similar to the RDOF are also underway. As in the US, the objective for most countries is to deliver one-gigabit connectivity to residential and commercial subscribers, whether via fiber, fixed wireless, or other options. For example, as Ireland was preparing for a COVID-19 lockdown, BBnet, an ISP that operates in the country, teamed with Irish Wireless and Aviat Networks to deploy an Aviat system in two weeks that now delivers rural broadband connectivity to parts of County Limerick.
Closing the digital divide worldwide is a monumental undertaking. It will take strong partnerships that include government agencies, service providers, and companies like Aviat to deliver high-speed broadband to the world’s rural populations.