In 2018 it was estimated by the Global Workplace Analytics that 3.6% of U.S. workers completely worked at home, five days a week. That’s a sluggish 173% change in a 13 year period. 2020 arrives and 85% of us are at home working (per choice or necessity). The US economy has only shrunk by 3.5% in 2020 even although 8 in 10 of us are in vastly different work surroundings with dogs barking, kids rightly needing constant help, support and entertaining. Something has actually gone right.
One of the logical reasons for why GDP has not been so severely damaged is the availability of high speed internet (HSI) to provide a fast, digital office space at home. But consider:
- 48% of applications run on the cloud according to IDG so access to those applications needs bandwidth no matter where you are.
- The average amount of time on a phone each day for an American worker is 56 minutes Access to a quality connection has increasingly become a barrier or a differentiator for employees.
- Kids (and maybe us) are spending five to six hours a day on Zoom. The lack of bandwidth (cell phone or laptop) again causes an issue where employees cannot express, collaborate or present their ideas in the best ways.
If you live in an area where the speed of internet access is slow, (I’m defining HSI as having download speeds of at least 25Mbps and uploads of at least 3Mbps),
how much of a disadvantage are you, and your children, put in? How much could your opportunity and income be affected, or existing gaps amplified?
Think of this disparity, the 2021 FCC Broadband Deployment Report shows 98.8% of urban dwellers have access to HSI. Only 82.7% of rural dwellers can say the same. Stretch that to tribal areas and we are down in the low 79.1%. Of the 15 million people who can’t access HSI, roughly 80% of them live in rural areas. Why should people who are able to do identical work not have access to the same essential infrastructure?
5G and the intelligent edge creates a radical shift in economics
To effectively create a rural network that enables all citizens in the digital economy, means investing in 5G technology for both wireless and fixed networks. The 5G standard empowers a broader scope of use cases than ever before, with faster speeds, wider coverage areas, and improved security from the previous 4G networks.
But, it’s no use building this new network if people can’t afford it. And that’s where the intelligent edge comes in. It moves real-time computing power close to where it’s generated, meaning easier deployments and lower operational costs. Combining 5G with the intelligent edge can provide the same workload performance with less overhead, resulting in significantly lower cost. And when building the intelligent rural network, keeping costs under control will be a key factor in making it affordable to everyone.
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. 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.
Increasing opportunity for everyone
In the age of information, digital access is an imperative to ensure every citizen has an equal opportunity to thrive. If we fail to act now, we are failing a future generation. Imagine a broadband network that covers every single village, town, and city of America. Imagine fast, secure, and reliable internet at an affordable price—no matter where you live. Imagine the power of connecting fully wired smart cities to the “clever countryside,” building a nationwide economic network that provides a wide range of opportunities for everyone.
CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER
Cyra Richardson is responsible for product strategy and execution, focused on driving digital transformation for our customers. A demonstrated technical entrepreneurial leader in AI, IoT, and embedded technology, she has delivered numerous significant products to markets worldwide across multiple platforms and has several patents to her name.
She spent 20+ years at Microsoft where she served in a range of leadership roles, most recently as General Manager of AI and IoT, as well as the AI and robotics incubation, focused on growth and business development for Microsoft’s global business AI and IoT markets. She was responsible for driving acquisition of technology and organizations for teams across Microsoft, as well as the integration and partnerships for IoT, including Microsoft’s machine learning and research technology. She was also a Windows Embedded engineering leader and group program manager. Prior to Microsoft, she was at Amazon.com as a business and technical leader, responsible for business/technical strategy and implementation/daily management for the Modern Mobile Web consumer shopping experience