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Aug 28 2019

The power to change lives

As someone who grew up on a farm, I’m passionate about making broadband available to rural communities. Broadband is not just about streaming movies, online shopping, and social media (although equal access to them is important too). In rural areas, broadband can dramatically improve the quality of life. When you can’t get to a doctor, a telehealth solution provides an expedient video consultation. When you’re snowed in, the school can stream lessons so nobody misses out. If you can work remotely using reliable broadband, your employment and business opportunities stretch far beyond your local community. Strong broadband also helps to attract people and businesses to rural areas, growing the local economy. One study by Purdue University found that for every dollar invested in broadband, four dollars is returned to the economy.

There are several different ways that rural communities can be connected. In some cases it might be possible to run wired service directly to homes and businesses. In others, wireless technologies such as private LTE (pLTE), campus WiFi, or microwave internet could be used to deliver an over-the-air connection for the last mile. But even in these cases, there is always a wire present for backhaul.

Power utilities are in a unique position to provide that underlying infrastructure so they can better serve their communities, and help them to grow economically.  Gigabit Passive Optical Networking (GPON) provides an effective solution. It uses an optical fiber in an efficient manner to provide high bandwidth and low latency, and it can cover wide areas. There are few active components, so it’s relatively easy to manage and operate. Hundreds of users can be connected from a single access node.

One reason that many rural areas don’t have access to broadband is that the total cost of ownership doesn’t  make sense for carriers. They can’t afford to invest in network infrastructure to serve ten households. Power utilities don’t have that problem: they already have much of the infrastructure in place, and most importantly have the rights-of-way in place. Power utilities can run fiber alongside power cables, and make it part of their greenfield developments and routine maintenance to add fiber.

From the call center to the roving maintenance crews, utilities have the systems in place to respond quickly if there is an outage.  Fiber also helps to support the power company’s own smart grid and maintenance initiatives, making it easier to access connected devices and video cameras in remote locations.

In some cases, the power utility might want to deliver a quad play service to customers (internet, video, voice and electricity), building on their existing customer relationship. Alternatively, they could deliver fiber to the community and partner with service providers that bring the connection to the customer, typically wirelessly. The power utility could act as a neutral host, partnering with several service providers, so the community has a choice of suppliers and wider range of services. Power regulators will be pleased to see consumer rates offset by fiber rental fees paid by service providers.

Governments have recognized the importance of broadband to rural areas, so in some cases grants may be available to support the investment. In the US, for example, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is overseeing $4 billion of investment in broadband initiatives*.

One company that’s seized the opportunity to deliver broadband is EPB, based in Chattanooga. EPB now delivers a gigabit internet connection to every home, and has made its power grid intelligent and self-healing.

Nokia provides a full suite of products for delivering broadband, and Nokia Bell Labs has extensive experience working with municipalities and power utilities on fiber strategies. Find out more here.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokiaindustries using #fiber #broadband #GPON #FTTH

* See https://www.ntia.doc.gov/grants-combined

About Liana Ault

Liana is the Energy Innovation lead at Nokia, responsible for helping power utilities to develop new communications services. She has extensive experience implementing and maintaining networks at communications and energy companies, and has previously sat on the board of directors of the Utilities Technology Council. Liana grew up on a farm, and is particularly passionate about the potential for broadband to transform rural communities. She loves working with power utilities to explore how they can best deliver it.

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