Reimagining the Economics of Rural Cellular Coverage with World-First Technology
Author: Eugina Jordan, Director of Marketing Communications at Parallel Wireless
Economics to provide rural connectivity are challenging from finding cost-effective base stations capable of strong outdoor and indoor coverage to figuring out how to backhaul the traffic. Macro coverage cannot cost-effectively cover the whole population of a country and small cells are preferred solution.
On December 2nd, EE has announced that it would connect 1,500 rural communities in the UK to its 4G network by the end of 2017 using Parallel Wireless micro network technology that makes it easier and more economical to reach isolated locations by eliminating the need for cables. The first micro network installation is in Sebergham, a village of 129 homes and 347 residents. Its deep valley location has posed real problems for connectivity.
The Cumbira community members state that “super-fast broadband is as important to rural areas as electricity and water.” But current broadband providers “have completely neglected” the area as it sits in the valley and bringing the backhaul was cost-prohibitive until now. This area had nothing before this trial and getting reliable 4G wireless broadband and voice is welcomed in Cumbria. “The mobile service here is either non-existent or spasmodic at best,” said Cumbria county councilor Duncan Fairbairn. “And the broadband is incredibly slow and very unreliable. In rural communities like Sebergham, being connected to good, reliable mobile coverage can make a significant difference to everyday life, and we need fast broadband.”
This innovative technology will allow 1,500 communities, underserved due to lack of fiber access, to get reliable 4G wireless broadband for the first time by 2017 changing the way people live lives and do business in those communities. It also fundamentally changes the economics of rural coverage for Service Providers of bringing wireless data to the disconnected.
To cover these rural communities, EE is using the new Parallel Wireless micro network technology that wirelessly connects company’s base stations (Converged Wireless System or CWS) to a suitable nearby macro site, without the need for underground cabling or large masts, dramatically improving the economics of connecting hard to reach areas. CWS nodes integrate access and backhaul capabilities in the same form factor. The nodes utilize commodity components and the latest powerful, but cost-effective System on Chip (SoC), as a result the system can deliver reliable coverage at an affordable price point for Service Providers.
With traditional approach, bringing backhaul to a rural site took a long time and required a substantial upfront investment as to deliver the highest speed possible, Service Providers need very expensive backhaul fiber. CWS nodes mesh backhaul- (NLOS, licensed and unlicensed spectrum) enabled. They could connect to each other and the Packet Core via a mesh backhaul – removing the need to lay out expensive fiber. In Sebergham, the base station that connects to the macro, extends the macro’s signal and provides backhaul connection wirelessly to the additional CWS nodes located deep in the valley via mesh. Strategically positioned houses in the rural area have a CWS box installed on an outside wall. This provides network coverage outdoors and indoors of around six square kilometers, linking back wirelessly to the central controller from Parallel Wireless. As the LTE Access Controller enables SON, the initial node configuration is plug –n-play without any planning applications. Once nodes are self-configured, LTE access Controller takes care of on-going maintenance, traffic mitigation, and network healing as it has “bird’s view” of the network and aggregates X2s and S1 from the nodes to prevent any congestion under any weather conditions by changing links dynamically and ramping power up and down. The SON on the controller also helps with the addition of new nodes which can be added seamlessly without any need to manually reconfigure the network. The self-configuration capabilities reduce the time and effort to install this new micro technology and self-optimization capabilities eliminate the need for engineers to manually optimize or maintain the network
This unique low-cost, low-impact, high-performance rural micro network technology can help reimagine rural cellular economics globally as cost-effectively delivering coverage to hard to reach areas is not just a UK Service Provider challenge, it is a global challenge. In the US, for example, 68% of the population is rural – watch this video where we are talking to a local sheriff in Montana about his coverage challenges and show him how easy and fast it is to install this rural micro network. Currently, this underserved population has very limited, sporadic and unreliable access to the Internet. Bringing wireline Internet to those hard to reach areas is cost-prohibitive for most Service Providers. This unique micro network technology with mesh capabilities and easy to install/easy to maintain base stations can help to deliver the Internet to those areas while making it affordable for Service Providers. And this world-first technology can help bringing cost-effective coverage beyond rural areas. Same challenges of bringing coverage at a price point that makes sense can be addressed in emerging/lower ARPU markets, like Africa for example, with this technology. As the region has very limited fixed network infrastructure in place, this world-first technology with low-cost but powerful base stations, mesh capabilities and controller that provides self-configuration and self-optimization of the nodes, can help deliver reliable wireless coverage to the region at a lower cost and on accelerated timeline.