Telesat, one of the largest and most successful global satellite operators, has joined a group of tech firms led by Mississippi-based C Spire working to bridge the “digital divide” and help solve the rural broadband access and adoption problem.
The firms, which also include Airspan Networks, Microsoft, Nokia and Siklu, joined forces last year and have been testing technology solutions, creating and building new business models and providing training resources for individuals and communities in digital skills to help improve internet access in rural areas.
In addition to Telesat’s state-of-the-art global, geostationary satellite fleet, the company is building Telesat LEO, a low earth orbit network that will deliver fiber-like connectivity with a combination of high speeds, high capacity, affordability and ultra-low latency.
Telesat will provide analysis tools and its experience with LEO technology to help the consortium work on new business models designed to encourage and promote third-party engagement. Telesat has partnered with the Canadian government to provide backhaul to rural and remote communities as part of an effort to bridge the “digital divide” affordably and quickly connecting the remaining 2.2 million households across the country.
“Telesat is a leader in developing satellite technology solutions that help consumers and businesses, no matter where they live or work, bridge the digital divide with reliable, affordable and high-quality internet access,” said C Spire Chief Innovation Officer Craig Sparks. “We’re excited that they are joining our efforts to tackle this complex technical, economic and access issue.”
Mississippi, with almost 28 percent of its residents lacking any broadband connectivity and less than 18 percent using broadband, is the primary testing ground of the group’s work as nearly half of its 3 million residents live in rural areas. The state ranks 46th nationwide in broadband access and 47th in urban population.
Among the various fixed wireless technology solutions the consortium is deploying and testing in rural areas of Mississippi are TV white spaces, massive MIMO using 4G Band 41 LTE and C Spire’s own 5G internet product, Sparks said, adding that the approaches could potentially be used in similar broadband-challenged rural areas across the continent.
C Spire is leading the effort as part of its broader Tech Movement to build a better future for the region through technology and education. “Improving broadband access and digital skills represent huge opportunities for rural areas. Every student, school and business should have the chance to reap the benefits from wider availability and adoption,” Sparks said.
Telesat’s efforts in Canada could have even broader implications beyond North America, according to Michael Schwartz, Senior Vice President of Corporate and Business Development for the firm, noting that 48 percent of the world’s population does not have high-speed internet access. The firm’s full constellation will be comprised of 298 LEO satellites that orbit the earth roughly 35 times closer than traditional satellites.
“Telesat LEO will provide new options for mobile network operators and internet service providers to backhaul traffic from rural communities to their core networks,” Schwartz said, noting that the technology could make low-latency, fiber-like broadband accessible anywhere.
Sparks echoed Schwartz’s outlook about the technology and stressed that more study and research must be completed before implementation. “We know that delivering high capacity broadband services is challenging – not because of the technology, but the economics. We are working hard with partners like Telesat to develop new business models with ways to close the broadband adoption and affordability gap in rural communities everywhere.”
The broadband “digital divide” between U.S. cities and rural parts of the country is substantial. According to a 2018 Federal Communications Commission1 report, over 19.4 million rural Americans still lacked basic broadband at the end of 2017 with profound negative social and economic impacts on the nation’s rural communities.
Unfortunately, the problems are even more acute in states like Mississippi where rural residents have limited or no access to basic broadband. A 2017 Mississippi State University Center for Technology Outreach study2 found that the state’s rural counties lose millions of dollars a year in deferred economic benefits due to lack of availability and slow internet speeds, a further indication that findings from the consortium research and testing could have a profound impact on the state’s economy.