Facebook along with Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel Ltd.’s Ugandan unit and Mauritius-based Bandwidth & Cloud Services Group, has deployed nearly 500 miles of fiber-optic cable across the isolated northwest of Uganda. The project, begun in early 2017 and completed at the end of last year, has expanded the region’s network capacity, providing faster internet access to an area with some three million people, many of whom live in towns still haunted by memories of the three-decade insurgency led by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.
The Ugandan cable is the largest terrestrial network Facebook has helped construct in Africa and part of what the company describes as a broader push to connect the approximately 3.8 billion people who are still without internet around the world.
The move comes as Facebook’s user growth slows in developed markets like the U.S. and Europe. The social media giant’s presence on the continent remains small compared with other regions, but the Menlo Park, Calif.–based company said its strategy to get more people onto a faster and more robust internet will plug more of sub-Saharan Africa into the global economy.
Indeed, the summer of 2018 brought different fortunes to attempts by Facebook and Google to offer broadband services using high-flying drones and balloons (atmospheric satellites) to the unserved in remote rural areas.
GlobalData, a data and analytics company, feels that webscale giants need to partner with telcos globally to address the affordability challenge of reaching out to the unconnected in rural markets with atmospheric satellites.
Atmospheric satellites fit in the space between true satellites commonly used for communications and ground-based networks. Their theoretical advantage over satellites is much lower cost. Launching a balloon or a drone and equipping it with a radio base station represents a much cheaper way of covering large swaths of land. Considering one-third of the world population remains unconnected, the lower costs associated with balloon- or drone-based coverage is compelling.
However in June 2018, following several setbacks over a period of four years, Facebook abandoned developing its own high-flying solar-powered drones (Aquila project) for delivering Internet. However, the California-based social media giant said that it will focus on working with partners like Airbus on high altitude platform station (HAPS) system, which is capable of beaming down high-speed Internet to the unserved in 3rd world countries.
On the other hand Alphabet, the parent company of Google, turned its Loon balloon project into an independent company and announced its first commercial project with partly-state owned Telkom Kenya in July 2018. The partners plan to launch balloon-based 4G/LTE services commercially to parts of central Kenya, starting from 2019.
Alphabet’s Project Loon uses helium balloons to bring internet access to remote locations
Google used Project Loon in Puerto Rico last year after two hurricanes destroyed much of the telecom infrastructure on the island. Project Loon’s pilot deployment with Telkom Kenya may provide the clearest test of whether atmospheric satellites can really work. This puts pressure on Loon to demonstrate it has a viable technology.
Emir Halilovic, Telecom Technology and Software Analyst at GlobalData, said:
“Things get more complicated when the practical challenges of covering the unconnected masses with drone- or balloon-based mobile signals are considered. For starters, the potential customers for services provided from atmospheric satellites are not concentrated in one part of the world; rather, they are spread across remote, rural, or tribal areas, in many different countries and continents.”
Truly addressing this group would require the participation of multiple operators in dozens of countries. Moreover, most of the unconnected usually do not live outside areas where they can get mobile service; they just cannot afford a mobile plan. Drones and balloons do little to address the ’affordability’ challenge.
“Still, there are reasons to continue to pursue atmospheric satellites to provide coverage to the underserved rural communities, which could use internet connection to improve access to medical services in isolated locations, for example. Another use case for atmospheric satellites is quick restoration of communication services in natural disasters. Telcos should therefore continue to test atmospheric satellites to support development of such services.”
Critics say Facebook’s ventures into less-developed markets could undermine net neutrality by channeling traffic to its own platform and away from competitors. An earlier effort by Facebook to expand internet access in the developing world faltered in 2016, when India’s telecommunications regulator effectively banned the company from offering free access to a low-data version of Facebook and selected websites and apps. Governments across Africa—including in Uganda—are rolling back internet freedoms and cracking down on social media.
Facebook, which declined to comment on the cost of the Ugandan cable, says its Africa strategy is a long-term effort. Analysts say the lack of connectivity on the continent is a central impediment to increasing economic growth: Removing barriers to commerce and trade should create more opportunities for consumers to spend.
“It’s not a philanthropic venture. It’s a strategic investment with a long-term goal,” said Ebele Okobi, Facebook’s director of Africa public policy. “We see this as an enabler of our business, not as a way to gain advantages.”
Dexter Thillien, a London-based analyst with Fitch Solutions, said Facebook, conscious of the risks, is still testing the waters in Africa. “It’s where they can make the least money, at least right now,” he said.
The word “Africa” appears just once in Facebook’s 2017 annual report, to inform readers that the continent is included, along with the Middle East and Latin America, under its “Rest of World” designation.
Since the fiber rollout, Airtel Uganda has installed 33 new telecom towers in northern Uganda, while 71 towers have been upgraded to 3G and another 43 towers now beam 4G, which improves users’ ability to download and stream quickly, the company said. Previously, most places in the region had 2G or no service at all—a far cry from developed economies, which are racing to roll out 5G networks. More than half of Africa’s mobile broadband connections remain 2G (which AT&T has discontinued in the U.S.).
“That cable is fast for internet. That means communications will be much easier,” said Patricia Akello, project manager for Youth Alive, a Gulu-based provider of youth HIV counseling and testing. “Internet has become a necessity: Allowing young people access will educate them. They’ll be better able to prevent HIV…and they can be educators to others in the community.”
Meanwhile, telcos like AT&T are testing drones to act as temporary cell sites after a disaster, Inside Towers reported. BAE Systems’ PHASA-35 could bring internet access to the most remote corners of the world, Martin Topping, delivery director at BAE Systems said: “Essentially any payload that can fit within the capacity can be put inside it. That could be 5G and 6G communications, border surveillance, agriculture and forestry, famine relief – it’s infinite. The vehicle is the carrier – the transit van. Spying is quite a niche usage.”
Microsoft’s Airband TV White Spaces initiative is a project that plans to bring broadband to 2 million rural Americans by 2022, beginning in Michigan and Wisconsin. Microsoft is partnering with Packerland Broadband (a division of CCI Systems). The companies are aiming for speeds of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream for a fixed wireless deployment in rural Michigan and Wisconsin that will use TV white spaces and other technologies, said Cory Heigl, vice president for Packerland Broadband. The technology is “maturing pretty rapidly” and the companies hope manufacturers will support 25/3 Mbps speeds by year-end, Heigl said in a phone interview with Telecompetitor.
Packerland will use a mix of technologies to provide broadband to its customers in rural communities, including TV White Spaces and Wi-Fi hardware developed with support from Microsoft, to extend the reach of its existing hybrid fiber-coax and wireless delivery platforms. TV white spaces technology uses vacant TV broadcast spectrum and has excellent propagation, making it well suited to serve locations lacking a clear line of sight to the base station.
Packerland expects to cover approximately 33,750 people by the end of 2019, and approximately 82,000 people by 2022. As part of the Packerland-Microsoft project, Packerland will provide Windows devices, Office 365 and other cloud-based services to small businesses, consumers and students, as well as digital literacy skills training. Packerland will also leverage Microsoft Azure as part of its operations management.
When Microsoft announced Airband plans in July 2017, the company said TV white spaces will be the best approach to reaching communities with population densities between two and 200 people per square mile, while areas with lower population densities would be best served by satellite and those in areas with more than 200 people per square mile would be best served with fiber-to-the-home. Soon after Microsoft announced their initiative in July, AT&T and NetComm Wireless announced a plan to bring fixed-wireless broadband to 18 states.
Around 34 million Americans, including 19.4 million people living in rural parts of the US, don’t have adequate broadband, according to the release. About 43% of rural Wisconsin and 34% of rural Michigan lack proper internet access and thus miss out on the benefits it can offer, Microsoft said.
“Northern Wisconsin is nothing but forest,” making it challenging to use other wireless technologies, observed Heigl. Distances covered are expected to range from about one to four miles, Heigl added.
The Microsoft – Packerland service, which will also tap other fixed wireless and wired technologies, is targeted to be available to 33,750 people by the end of 2019 and approximately 82,000 people by 2022. This deployment is one of 12 projects planned as part of the Microsoft Airband TV White spaces initiative, which aims to bring broadband to 2 million people in rural America by 2022.
“This partnership with Packerland Broadband will help us address the rural broadband gap in northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. “Broadband has become the electricity of the 21st century, essential for education, business, agriculture and health care. Microsoft’s Airband Initiative is focused on bringing this necessity of life to 2 million people in rural counties by 2022.”
“Partnering with Microsoft allows us to bring new services and push our services further into the rural landscape in our region and beyond,” said Cory Heigl, vice president of Packerland Broadband. “We are the people we serve, and in this part of the world, we want to make an impact for the better. Our partnership with Microsoft will help us to influence lives by improving at-home education, enhancing economic opportunities, keeping up with health care advancements and furthering the agricultural innovation of our rural communities.”
“The mission of TechSpark Wisconsin is to bring new digital solutions to our region,” said Microsoft TechSpark Wisconsin Manager Michelle Schuler. “Packerland Broadband and Microsoft are making it possible for people living in rural Wisconsin to have the same opportunities to live, learn and work as people living in connected cities. That’s win-win for the people living here and the region’s economy.”
CCI Systems, Inc. CEO John Jamar said, “We have been focused on making life better by connecting people through innovative communications networks, and we are enthused to team up with our friends at Microsoft to accelerate that.”
“The time is right for the nation to set a clear and ambitious but achievable goal – to eliminate the rural broadband gap within the next five years by July 4, 2022, “said Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer at Microsoft in a blog post announcing the project. “We believe the nation can bring broadband coverage to rural America in this timeframe, based on a new strategic approach that combines private sector capital investments focused on expanding broadband coverage through new technologies, coupled with targeted and affordable public-sector support.”
2017 SPIFFY Awards:
Seven pioneering start-up companies were recognized by the Service Provider Innovation Forum (SPIF) at the 10th Annual SPIFFY Awards held Wednesday evening November 1st at TC3 Summit.
Since 2001, the Telecom Council has worked to identify and recognize companies who represent a broad range of cutting-edge telecom products and services. From there, dozens of young companies are presented each month to the Service Provider Innovation Forum (SPIF), ComTech Forum, IoT Forum, and Investor Forum.
SPIF members, who represent cutting-edge telcos from over 50 countries and who serve over 3B subscribers, selected seven companies from hundreds of presenting communication startup companies and 30 SPIFFY nominees as best-in-class in their respective categories. Each winner, who is set apart for their dedication, technical vision, and interest from the global service provider community, is a company to watch in the telecommunication industry.
The winners below represent the best and brightest in their respective categories:
- The Graham Bell Award for Best Communication Solutions – Sightcall : a cloud API that enables any business to add rich communications (e.g. video), accessible with a single touch, in the context of their application.
- Edison Award for Most Innovative Startup – DataRPM: cognitive preventive maintenance platform.
- San Andreas Award for Most Disruptive Technology – Veniam: networking solution for future autonomous vehicles; mobile WiFi done right.
- Core Award for Best Fixed Telecom Opportunity – Datera: storage and data management for service providers, private cloud, digital business via “Datera elastic data fabric software.”
- Zephyr Award for Best Mobile Opportunity – AtheerAir: augmented reality solutions for industrial enterprises.
- Ground Breaker Award for Engineering Excellence – Cinova: virtual reality streaming at practical bit rates using Cinova’s cloud server technology.
- Prodigy Award for the Most Successful SPIF Alumni – Plex: streaming media server and apps to stream video, audio and photo collections on any device.
This year’s entrepreneurs had a chance to vote on the operators as well, to give a shout out to those telcos who were supportive, approachable, and helpful to young and growing telecom companies. The entreprenneurs chose Verizon.
- Fred & Ginger Award for the Most Supportive Carrier – Verizon.
The SPIFFY nominees attended the awards ceremony along with 50 global fixed and wireless communications companies and over 300 industry professionals. Photos of the event can be found on Telecom Council’s blog and Instagram pages. Note that none of this year’s SPIFFY award winners, with the possible exception of Veniam, actually provide a connectivity (PHY, MAC/Data Link layer) solution.
Author’s Notes on three impressive start-ups that presented at TC3 on November 1st (only day I attended 2017 TC3):
1. In a session titled “Closing the Rural Broadband Gap,” Skyler Ditchfield, CEO of GeoLinks, provided an overview of his company’s success in providing high-speed broadband to schools and libraries using fixed wireless technologies, specifically microwave radio operating in several frequency bands. The company’s flagship service is ClearFiber™, which offers customers fixed wireless broadband service on the most resilient and scalable networkSkyler described the advantages of their 100% in house approach to engineering, design, land procurement, construction and data connectivity. GeoLinks approach offers gigabit plus speeds at a fraction of the cost of fiber with lower latency and rapid deployment across the country.
A broadband fixed wireless installation on Santa Catalina island was particularly impressive. Speeds on the island (which GeoLinks says is 41 miles offshore) are typically 300 Mbps, and the ultra-fast broadband connection provides support for essential communications services, tourism services, and commerce. GeoLinks successfully deployed Mimosa Network´s fiber-fast broadband solutions to bring high-speed Internet access to the island community for the first time in its history. Connecting the island to the mainland at high speeds was very challenging. GeoLinks ultimately selected Mimosa for the last mile of the installation, deploying Mimosa A5 access and C5 client devices throughout the harbor town of Avalon.
Another ClearFiber™ successful deployment was at Robbins Elementary school in California. It involved 19 miles of fixed broadband wireless transport to provide the school with broadband Internet access.
Skyler said that next year, GeoLinks planned to deliver fixed wireless transport at 10G b/sec over 6 to 8 miles in the 5Ghz unlicensed band- either point to point OR point to multi-point. The company is considering 6GHz, 11GHz, 18Ghz and 20Ghz FCC licensed bands. He said it would be important for GeoLinks to get licensed spectrum for point to multi-point transmission.
More on GeoLinks value proposition here and here. And a recent blog post about Skyler Ditchfield who told the TC3 audience he grew up fascinated by communications technologies. This author was very impressed with Skyler and GeoLinks!
2. In a panel on “Startup Success Stories,” Nitin Motgi, founder and CEO of Cask (a “big data” software company) talked about how long it took to seal a deal with telcos. It’s longer than you might think! In one case, Nitin said it was 18 months from the time an unnamed telco agreed to purchase Cask’s solution (based on a proof of concept demo) till the contract was actually signed and sealed. Nitin referred to the process of selling to telcos as “whale hunting.” However, he said that if you succeed it’s worth it because of the telco’s scale of business.
3. Tracknet Co-Founder and CEO Hardy Schmidbauer presented a 5 minute “fast pitch” to the Telecom Council Service Provider Forum. He talked about his company’s highly scalable LPWAN/ IoT network solutions: “TrackNet provides LoRaWAN IoT solutions for consumers and industry, focusing on ease of use and scalability to enable a “new era” of exponentially growing LPWAN deployments.” The company is a contributing member of the LoRa Alliance and the TrackNet team has been instrumental in specifying, building, and establishing LoRaWAN and the LoRa Alliance for more than five years. The founding Tracknet team includes veterans from IBM and Semtech who were instrumental in the development of LoRa and LoRaWAN.
With “Tabs,” Tracknet combines a WiFi connected IoT home and tracker system with LoRaWAN network coverage built from indoor Tabs hubs.
About the Telecom Council: The Telecom Council of Silicon Valley connects the companies who are building communication networks, with the people and ideas that are creating them – by putting those companies, research, ideas, capital and human expertise from across the globe together in the same room. Last year, The Telecom Council connected over 2,000 executives from 750 telecom companies and 60 fixed and wireless carriers across 40 meeting topics. By joining, speaking, sponsoring, or simply participating in a meeting, there are many ways telecom companies of any size can leverage the Telecom Council network. For more information visit: https://www.telecomcouncil.com.
A follow up TC3 blog post will provide an update on project CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center) from the perspective of the Open Network Foundation (ONF) with panelists from AT&T and Verizon.
NOTE: This article complements others we’ve recently posted on U.S. carriers move to broadband fixed wireless access for rural and under-served geographical areas.
In many rural communities, where available broadband speed and capacity barely surpass old-fashioned dial-up connections, residents sacrifice not only their online pastimes but also chances at a better living. Counties without modern internet connections can’t attract new firms, and their isolation discourages the enterprises they have: ranchers who want to buy and sell cattle in online auctions or farmers who could use the internet to monitor crops. Reliance on broadband includes any business that uses high-speed data transmission, spanning banks to insurance firms to factories.
Rural counties with more households connected to broadband had higher incomes and lower unemployment than those with fewer, according to a 2015 study by university researchers in Oklahoma, Mississippi and Texas who compared rural counties before and after getting high-speed internet service.
“Having access to broadband is simply keeping up,” said Sharon Strover, a University of Texas professor who studies rural communication. “Not having it means sinking.”
Ensuring access to an open, thriving online ecosystem through modern and even-handed internet rules is critical for every American, but much more so for the 60 million rural Americans who rely on the internet to connect them to a rapidly evolving global economy. Studies show that as rural communities adopt and use broadband services, incomes go up and unemployment falls. Broadband providers support protections that ensure consumers and innovators alike don’t have to worry about blocked websites or throttled service. Rural areas need more investment, not less. And modern Open Internet rules will encourage this needed progress.
Full Story: ustelecom.org
Sidebar – Fast Internet Service:
About 39% of the U.S. rural population, or 23 million people, lack access to broadband internet service—defined as “fast” by the Federal Communications Commission—compared with 4% of the urban residents.
Fast Internet service, according to the FCC, means a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second, a measure of bandwidth known as Mbps. That speed can support email, web surfing, video streaming and graphics for more than one device at once. It is faster than old dial-up connections—typically, less than 1 Mbps—but slower than the 100 Mbps service common in cities.
A recent Forbes article titled “Don’t Forget Rural America…..” by Richard Boucher stated:
In announcing the “Restoring Internet Freedom” rulemaking, the FCC stated that “[o]ur actions today continue our critical work to promote broadband deployment to rural consumers and infrastructure investment throughout our nation, to brighten the future of innovation both within networks and at their edge, and to close the digital divide.” This past July, the Commission declared August to be “Rural Broadband Month” at the FCC.
Two years following the 2015 reclassification of broadband as a common carrier telecommunications service, it’s clear that broadband investment has declined in rural America. Representatives of internet service providers (ISPs) from states like Arkansas, Washington, Kentucky, and Nebraska have all offered evidence detailing how regulatory uncertainty arising from the “Title II” decision has retarded and, in many situations, stopped investment in their regions.
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), which has a large rural membership, said that the switch to Title II has led to “vast uncertainty and significant negative economic impacts for WISPA members who have built their networks from scratch using their own at-risk capital without federal subsidies[.]”
The formula for bringing high-speed internet connectivity to everyone in rural America is multi-faceted. It requires a combination of wired and wireless deployments, and government – through the FCC’s Universal Service programs and loans and grants from the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Agriculture – all have a role to play. But indispensable to success is the creation of a regulatory framework that incentivizes private capital to deploy broadband everywhere, including rural America. As long as the regulatory uncertainty of Title II remains, rural America to a large extent will be cut off from essential private broadband deployment funding and, as a result, fall even further behind.
The discussion, as well as a fair amount of heated rhetoric, are sure to continue over the next few weeks regarding the proper classification for broadband. Meanwhile, don’t forget rural America. The best way to ensure that all corners of the country get the connectivity they need is for the FCC to restore the classification of broadband as an information service. Thereafter, Congress should enact legislation that codifies open internet rules and at long last puts to rest a debate that has raged for more than a decade.
Another approach to delivering rural broadband are co-ops like this one: