Bridging the digital divide has been a hot topic for decades. It is a multi-faceted challenge that has become impossible to ignore over the past several years as much of the planet dealt with a pandemic that required us to work from home, learn from home, shop from, and for long stretches of time, isolate at home.
When the lockdowns hit, many of us were fortunate enough to have an assortment of home computers, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones already connected to stable residential broadband networks. Those less fortunate, predominately unconnected rural communities, got left on the other side of the digital divide.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
Many people living in rural communities have limited or no options for high-speed broadband connectivity. With network operators and Internet Service Providers (ISP) dutybound to deliver profits, they duly prioritize densely populated urban areas packed with paying customers – which makes perfect sense from a business perspective. Investing enormous sums in costly network infrastructure to deliver connectivity to a handful of customers living in remote rural communities is incredibly difficult to justify, and so those individuals remain unserved or underserved.
So how do we mitigate costs? One way is with government subsidies. Subsidized infrastructure building is often a key catalyst in the development of rural areas. With new business-friendly infrastructure in place, private investment follows, and with it, durable economic growth.
In November 2021, the U.S. federal government approved a $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), with $65 billion of that allocated to delivering high-speed internet access through broadband infrastructure deployment. The funding prioritizes “unserved” and “underserved” areas and will go a long way towards connecting those left on the other side of the digital divide to essential health services, online schooling, and business and hybrid employment opportunities. The law also provides a monthly subsidy, making high-speed connectivity more affordable for lower-income populations.
The United States is not alone when it comes to broadband infrastructure investment, many other countries recognize the importance and urgency required to overt a widening digital divide and are allocating the required resources. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) believes that $428 billion is needed to connect all of humanity to the Internet by 2030. A full 90% of that investment is tied directly to broadband infrastructure rollout and maintenance.
The European Commission has approved €400 million of public support to deploy high-speed broadband networks in Spain with the goal of addressing connectivity deficits and accelerating coverage. In Italy, the Draghi government identified digitization as a top priority. More than a quarter of the country’s €195.1 billion in European Union (EU) recovery funds have been allocated to digital investments. Over the past several years central European countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, and Romania have received in excess of 1.5 billion euros from EU funds dedicated to digitalization.
Of the 25 least-connected countries in the world, 21 are located in Africa. While Africa continues to lag behind, there has been significant progress on the continent thanks to enormous infrastructure investments from tech sector giants like Facebook and Google, both eager to gain access to a largely untapped market. Google alone has pledged $1 billion in investments by 2026. Google's e-Conomy Africa 2020 report found that Africa's internet economy is one of the largest overlooked investment opportunities available, with a potential to add $180 billion to Africa's GDP by 2025. This potential windfall can be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that Africa has the world's youngest, fastest-growing workforce.
THE OPTIONS – GETTING THE BEST BROADBAND BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
With enormous amounts of funding in place, we’re left with the obvious question of how to best invest it. When it comes to the Transport Network component the three main options are still fiber, satellite, and wireless microwave and millimeter wave technology. The key considerations are cost, capacity, deployment time, reliability, and latency.
Fiber has traditionally taken top prize in the capacity and reliability categories, but it’s by far the most expensive and time-consuming to deploy. The downside of fiber becomes most evident when you consider spanning vast stretches of open water, rocky or mountainous geography, or densely populated urban settings where digging is out of the question. When you calculate all the time required to obtain the necessary permits, dig up the area where the fiber will be placed, and then deploy, it quickly becomes clear that the digital divide requires a simpler, more immediate, and less costly solution.
Satellite has been a satisfactory alternative for a long time. Deployment is fast, relatively simple, and far more affordable than fiber. Unfortunately, satellite suffers from capacity issues, unreliable connectivity, and long latency, rendering it unable to deliver the real-time communication required for anything close to 5G connectivity.
That leaves us with wireless microwave and millimeter connectivity. What makes wireless transport solutions ideal for such scenarios is their exceptional performance combined with quick and cost-effective deployment. It delivers the ultra-high capacity, reliability, and low latency offered by fiber combined with the fast, simple, and cost-effective deployment offed by satellite. With capacity up to 4Gbps and latency as low as 1ms, wireless microwave is ideal for both rural and urban deployment. There is no longer a need to dig or lay costly fiber, and there is no need to wait years for permits and long-drawn-out deployment processes.
SELECTING THE RIGHT WIRELESS TRANSPORT PARTNER
With three decades of wireless transport experience and countless customer success stories, Ceragon can help any network operator or ISP bridge the digital divide. From remote rural locations, offshore energy platforms, and picture-perfect islands to the most densely populated downtown cores, Ceragon is the trusted go-to vendor for network operators looking for first-time-right deployments. In addition to a comprehensive lineup of wireless microwave and millimeter hardware and stabilization solutions, Ceragon also provides industry-leading Network Services.
Ceragon Network Services cover every stage of the transport network lifecycle. From day-one planning to managed operations, maintenance, and comprehensive support plans. Ceragon delivers more than just predictable costs and scalable solutions, we allow operators to focus on their core competency while leveraging the on-demand expertise and resources enabling them to continue to grow their business. Choose from one of Ceragon’s individual services or a complete Managed Services package.
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