Wireless is a good interim solution (and constant requirement) for rural communities

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a few articles pushing wireless as a good solution for rural areas. It comes up a lot – especially around legislative season and inevitably the question comes up – Can wireless replace fiber?

It comes up so often I thought I’d ask my friendly experts before I wrote anything. Here’s what I learned:

You need fiber to support wireless. Still one of the best explanations I’ve heard of the need for fiber to support wireless is from a conference a few years ago when Kevin Beyer at Farmer’s/Federated explained costs to pull fiber to towers to accommodate wireless. Wireless is good for last mile, but won’t cover the whole connection.

Wireless is more affordable to deploy and cheaper for the end customer. (Assuming no data-caps!) So it can be a good interim solution as you build fiber. One of the recent article details how this can play out with long term plans and has with RS Fiber…

RS Fiber decided, based on the recommendation of their Internet service provider (ISP), Hiawatha Broadband Communications, that they would build a hybrid network.

“It was going to take three years to build out fiber to the larger towns and another two to three to build fiber to farms in the two counties,” says Erickson. “Hiawatha said they could build a 25 Mbps symmetrical wireless network that they would complete in six months while the fiber buildout takes place. This strategy was a stroke of genius.”

This easily could become the norm in both rural and urban U.S. communities.

Rather than have constituents continue to suffer with bad – or no – broadband for years, RS Fiber’s wireless infrastructure has been lit for several months and users are reaping the benefits. All RS Fiber had to do was requisition space for transmitters and receivers on water towers and grain legs, tall structures that protrude above grain bins. Then they integrated the fiber into transmission hubs that deliver wireless signals to homes and businesses. Once customers get data receivers in their homes, they’re ready to go. The wireless services enabled quick cash flow, plus RS Fiber now has a loyal customer base for fiber before that buildout is complete.

Wireless is getting faster but the range is still limited. With advances such as millimeter wave technology, top broadband speeds are available but only at very close range

This week, a new startup, Starry, announced it would bring gigabit-speed internet access to consumers, without data caps, at a price that is equal or less than your average broadband plan.  …

The only difficulty is that you have to locate the transmitter suitably close,” says Sundeep Rangan, an associate professor of electrical engineering at New York University who specializes in wireless communications. As part of the NYU Wireless project, a team of academics made a number of extensive measurements in a dense urban environment trying to emulate transmission for cellular type applications with millimeter waves, similar to those proposed by Starry. “We could serve people up to 200 meters away at high speeds, even without direct line of sight. It was quite remarkable.”

And even the vendors seem a little shaky about that detail…

The problem is that 200 meters is just a fraction of the range promised by Starry, which is claiming its technology can deliver a fast, reliable signal to homes up to 2 kilometers away.

There will always be room for both. Wireless may build customer loyalty and customer fees may build cash to deploy fiber and people will always want the mobility of wireless. I’ve written before about which is better in an emergency. (Depends on the emergency.) And I’m sure anyone reading this (especially if on your smartphone while waiting in line for something – or maybe as you’re on your tractor monitoring precision ag apps) can think of dozens of reasons wireless is essential.

This entry was posted in MN, Rural, Wireless by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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