ITU-R work in progress: Providing enhanced mobile broadband services to remote sparsely populated and underserved areas

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of an ITU-R working document, subject to significant revision(s). It has no official status and has NOT been approved by ITU-R WP5D.  ITU TIES account holders may access the document on the ITU-R WP 5D website as an October 2020 meeting contribution .

ATDI proposes to insert text (not included here) at Section 4 ‘Solutions that support remote sparsely populated areas providing high data rate coverage’ of the Draft Working Document.

Why this is an important topic:  

Many people in developing countries like India live in villages or rural areas.  In most cases they have little or no mobile broadband coverage. 

In the U.S., the  Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that 26.4% of rural America, or 16.9 million people, lack access to a broadband connection of 25Mbps downstream/3Mbps upstream. This has been proven to be a highly conservative estimate because of the way the FCC collects broadband data. More accurate studies suggest the FCC’s estimates could be off by upwards of 50%. A 2017 study by Microsoft, for instance, found that half of all Americans, or 162.8 million people, lack access to broadband. Also, many wireless telcos are hesitant to roll out mobile broadband to rural America because of a perceived lack of return on investment.

According to data from the FCC, 39% of people living in rural areas in the United States lack access to high-speed broadband, compared with just 4% of urban Americans.

In addition to using IMT 4G/5G for mobile communications (discussed in the draft report below), 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) will make a significant impact on global markets, both developing and developed.  In the U.S., sparsely populated, rural areas currently lag far behind metro area cities in broadband access.  As there is no standard for 5G FWA, it will likely be based on the enhanced Mobile Broadband use case for IMT 2020, or proprietary versions of IEEE 802.11ax (WiFi 6).



On a global basis, the total number of mobile subscriptions was around 8 billion in Q3 2019, with 61 million subscriptions added during the quarter, the mobile subscription penetration is at 104 percent. There are 5.9 billion unique mobile subscribers using mobile networks, while 1.8 billion people remain unconnected. In year 2025 it is forecasted to be 2.6 billion 5G subscriptions and 8.6 billion mobile subscriptions globally at a penetration level of about 110%1. In year 2025 there may be up to 6.8 billion unique mobile subscribers using mobile networks, while 1.5 billion people remain unconnected, many of whom are below the age of nine.

The prospect of providing mobile and home broadband services for most of the 1.5 billion unconnected people, living in such underserved rural areas, is largely related to techno-economic circumstances.

This Report provides details on scenarios associated with the provisioning of enhanced mobile broadband services to remote sparsely populated and underserved areas with a discussion on enhancements of user and network equipment.

1 Ericsson Mobility Report, November 2019, mobile broadband includes radio access technologies HSPA (3G), LTE (4G), 5G, CDMA2000 EV-DO, TD-SCDMA and Mobile WiMAX.


Deploying networks in remote areas is normally more expensive, and at the same time, expected revenues are lower in comparison with deployments in populated areas. A further reason for not being incentivized to deploy new IMT broadband (e.g. IMT-2020/5G) Base Stations (BS) in these areas is the expected number of new BS sites. Therefore, the total economic incentives to deploy traditional networks in sparsely populated areas are consequently narrowed.

The competition model, applying to densely populated areas, is normally not providing rural coverage expansion at a speed that society wish. Connectivity in underserved remote areas is important to national policy makers facing needs of consumers, to service providers for reasons of branding, and to satisfy regulatory conditions in countries.

When expanding coverage in remote areas, it may imply an undesirable local monopoly, suggesting that only one service provider would expand in to such a remote area due to a low consumer base.

Rural coverage might in the future be driven by the need for national security and public safety connectivity, intelligent traffic systems, internet of things, industry automation and end users need for home broadband services as an alternative to fiber connections. In order to fulfil the needs of rural coverage, it is a matter of urgency to identify viable solutions for mobile and home broadband services.

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Solutions that support remote sparsely populated areas providing high data rate coverage:

Possible technical solutions to achieve both extended coverage as well as high capacity in remote areas could be to use dual frequency bands at the same time, one lower band for the uplink (UL) and one higher band for the downlink (DL), in aggregated configurations.

Combining spectrum bands in the mid-band range and the low-band range on an existing grid can provide extended capacity compared to a network only using the low-band range.

An alternative technical solution to provide extended coverage in a remote area using a reduced number of terrestrial BS sites, aiming to bringing cost down, requires careful selection of proper locations and technical characteristics compared to configurations of suburban networks. Realizing such extended network configuration for coverage, several considerations need to be taken into account, both at a BS site and at customer premises. Considerations of accommodating BSs on high towers in sparsely populated areas could be further studied. Such opportunities rest with traditionally high tower used for analogue or digital television with an average inter-site distance (ISD) of the order of 60 km to 80 km designed to provide blanket coverage of national terrestrial television services. 

Other sections of this report: 

  • Analyzing configurations for an IMT broadband network operating in dual bands

Combining spectrum bands in the mid-band range 3.5 GHz and the low-band range, e.g. 600 MHz, 700 MHz or 800 MHz, on an existing grid can provide extended capacity compared to a network only using the low-band range. The reason being that the mid-band range offer access to more spectrum bandwidth, and the low-band range combined, can provide the coverage for cell edge users in a unified manner.

  • Analyzing configurations for an IMT broadband network operating only in the band 3.5 GHz

In underserved remote areas, the DL capacity performance can be significantly improved by using the band 3.5 GHz whilst the UL coverage is representing the bottleneck in attempts of satisfying needs for coverage. With potential upgrades of BS and consumer premises UE configurations, the feasibility of providing improved remote area coverage is considered by using only the band 3.5 GHz. 


ITU-R Report: Terrestrial IMT for remote sparsely populated areas providing high data rate coverage

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