Wi-Fi Bridges the Digital Divide in Rural Areas 
Tuesday, December 13, 2022 | Comments

The Wireless Broadband Alliance(WBA) announced publication of “Rural Wi-Fi Connectivity: Challenges, Use Cases and Case Studies,” a report that demonstrates why Wi-Fi is the most economical and effective technology for bridging the digital divide in small towns, remote communities and other sparsely populated areas, utilizing the best available backhaul solution. 


More than 1 billion people worldwide live in rural communities where internet access is poor or completely unavailable. This severely limits access to key digital services such as telehealth and online education, as well as job opportunities that involve telecommuting. This digital divide persists in both developed and developing countries and threatens to become “the new face of inequality,” according to U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. In September 2022, the Biden administration announced $502 million fund for high-speed Internet in rural communities to help address the issue in the United States. 


The new WBA report includes strategies and best practices that service providers can use to ensure quality of service, making Wi-Fi suitable for distance learning, telehealth, e-commerce, the internet of things (IoT), streaming video and other consumer, business and government applications. Through use cases and real-world case studies, the report explores a variety of deployment scenarios that address the unique challenges of rural environments, with different types of backhaul, targeted applications, market conditions and other factors. 


The report also provides regulators with guidance for maximizing Wi-Fi’s ability to bridge the digital divide in rural areas. A prime example is ensuring that the new 6 GHz band is available for use in their countries, giving service providers additional spectrum to support more users and deliver the requisite speeds and performance. 


Wi-Fi enables mobile operators, telcos and other service providers to address a wide variety of existing and potential use cases, giving them a versatile and cost-effective technology for expanding their services into rural areas. Two examples are listed below:  


Fiber providers using Wi-Fi to extend their services into rural areas over microwave. This avoids the expense and lead time of burying or stringing fiber in remote areas, including ones with challenging terrain such as rivers, mountains and rock. With Wi-Fi 6, the bandwidth over the unlicensed band microwave link will increase and may reach 1 Gbps, according to the report. One telecom operator in India is already deploying a network called Bharat Air Fiber in rural areas based on similar architecture. 


Cellular operators using Wi-Fi to provide fixed and mobile broadband services. The average cost of deploying a cellular tower covering a population of around 4,000 spread across 1 sq. km costs at least 20 times more in capital and operational expenses compared to a mere $2,500 for Wi-Fi deployment, the report states. This includes outdoor Wi-Fi equipment, external antennas, solar panel, solar charge controller, battery, outdoor PoE, poles and earthing, cabling, and two years of fiber backhaul subscription cost. 


Two-thirds of the world’s school-age children — 1.3 billion children aged 3 to 17 years old — do not have Internet connection in their homes, according to a new joint report from UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). According to ITU, 2.9 billion of the global population are still offline, with an estimated 96 percent of them in developing countries.  

Even among the 4.9 billion counted as Internet users,” many hundreds of millions may get the chance to go online only infrequently, via shared devices, or using connectivity speeds that markedly limit the usefulness of their connection. In some of the world's poorest nations, getting online can cost a staggering 20 percent or more of per capita gross national income (GNI). 


For access to the full report, visit: https://wballiance.com/rural-wi-fi-connectivity/ 

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