Rural broadband, or the lack of it, has been a hot button issue for me for many years. For all of that the US has to offer in the areas of opportunity, it has failed much of the country as high-speed broadband is not available everywhere.
In today’s digital world, the network is everything and fundamentally changes the way we live, educate, innovate, heal, and play.
Even though we know the importance of Internet access, there are millions of Americans living in rural areas without access to broadband. The statistic is especially disheartening during a global pandemic, which has forced people to work and learn remotely.
Those who lack high speed Internet access are at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the population. While other countries have made great strides to connect the unconnected, it continues to be a challenge in the US, creating an even wider digital divide. Broadband everywhere creates opportunity, and the country desperately needs a national policy to make it as widely available as phone service.
Broadband is Key to Creating Equal Opportunity in the US
One of the challenges in rolling out broadband in rural areas is many of the service providers may not have the skills or understand how to evolve the network. Cisco recently opened the Rural Broadband Innovation Center in Morrisville, North Carolina, to help network operators better understand how to modernize networks in rural areas to deliver broadband to more people in more areas. The solutions showcased in the center are designed to help service providers of all sizes simplify network infrastructure.
I recently spoke with Robin Olds, business development manager of innovation and transformation at Cisco, about how access to broadband rural areas would help the economy and benefit society. Highlights of my ZKast interview, done in conjunction with eWEEK eSPEAKS, are below.
More Investment Needed
- The ability to educate students at home is also dependent on the network.
- Distance learning should promote equality, so more kids become proficient in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
- However, there are many parts of the U.S. that don’t have good quality programs, which is why the US is woefully behind in STEM globally.
- At the height of the pandemic, children in rural areas didn’t have equal access to education due to limited bandwidth and that problem still exists.
- The federal government has allocated approximately $38 billion for rural broadband initiatives, but it’s not enough.
Helps Test Out Solutions
- Service providers are looking for opportunities to offer broadband access in rural areas. Cisco’s Rural Broadband Innovation Center helps service providers test out solutions and build out their networks faster.
- The Rural Broadband Innovation Center was a $20 million investment for Cisco and is part of Cisco’s broader initiatives in powering an inclusive future for all.
- It showcases technologies designed for cost-effective broadband expansion.
- It also houses a lab, where broadband providers can get hands-on with various solutions to see how they would work in their own environment.
- At the center, Cisco demonstrates different methods of open access like optical networking, private 5G, and 4G LTE.
- It not only showcases Cisco solutions, but it also supports smaller providers that don’t have the technical skills to deploy new technologies.
SD-WAN and Network Automation
Building a next-generation network isn’t as simple as upgrading from old to new. Cisco’s focus in rural areas includes fixed wireless access like fiber-to-home and cable, as well as mobile networks. Examples of its solutions for rural broadband include:
- Software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), which reduces cost and complexity. SD-WAN can link up sites using multiple connections from different providers and different types of transport, including long-term evolution (LTE), multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), and broadband.
- Network automation through the Crosswork suite, which smaller service providers can implement. An automated network delivers both redundancy and resiliency that’s necessary for rural broadband.
- Smaller providers can use Cisco’s flexible consumption model to access the same networking equipment as large providers, but at a much lower cost.
Networks today are very different from previous generations. Software innovation trumps hardware and cloud native technologies are rapidly becoming the norm. By showing service providers how to build out their networks using the latest technologies, Cisco hopes to make an impact and accelerate the rollout of rural broadband, which will benefit the entire country. This is one of the biggest issues facing the country as we move into an era where hybrid life becomes the norm.