An earlier post on next-generation wireless deployment dealt with standards viable for commercial deployment (WiMAX & LTE). Incumbent operators and new ISPs will utilize this technology to extend the reach of connectivity.  Here, the discussion will focus on two attempts to extend network coverage to indigenous communities in North America.

In the United States, Native American reservations remain some of the most unconnected populations, but these underserved and forgotten communities are gearing up for the future. Our first examples comes from Sacred Wind, an operator serving Indigenous communities in New Mexico.  Their investment in new wireless infrastructure that is commercially viable means a dramatically different outlook for their customers:

Sacred Wind is building a fixed WiMax network using Fujitsu access gear over the 3.65 GHz unlicensed band to extend phone and broadband access to a community that the telecom industry seems to have forgotten. Of the 8500 households distributed among thousands of square miles, only 29% have phones, but after Sacred Wind’s $70-million project is complete, John Badal, Sacred Wind’s chief executive officer, hopes to have more than 90% of the population connected to voice and broadband through some combination of copper, fiber and wireless point-to-point and point-to-multipoint technologies.

Our second example differs from the first because it is not the project of a telecom operator.  Based at the University of California, San Diego, the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) works to build for research purpose, experimental wireless network connectivity over a wide expanse of difficult terrain in Southern California.

HPWREN addresses education needs of rural indigenous communities

HPWREN addresses education needs of rural indigenous communities

Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, HPWREN is a research project that is utilized by:

  • researchers in a wide range of science and engineering disciplines
  • planning agencies working in disaster management and emergency services
  • Native American communities building distance education capabilities

Read more from a PDF brochure outlining project initiatives.  Below is a map of their current network deployment:

Research and Education Networks in the San Diego area. Click image to view in Hi-resolution

Map of Research and Education Networks in the San Diego area. Click image to view in Hi-resolution

For Pacific Island nations, the low rate of Internet take-up in the population represents a market failure on two fronts: the provision of backhaul and last-mile service.  Where market failures exist, it is the prerogative of regulatory bodies to step in to address the underlying issues.  It’s absolutely critical that regulators put in place appropriate incentives to get operators to deploy networks to as wide a segment of the population as possible.

WiMAX technology is allowing Sacred Wind to address a concern and extend the reach of their business to customers who were previously unreachable.  Similarly, the work of researchers in San Diego seeks to expand the capabilities of wireless networks, while also providing benefits for research and education.  Taken together, these two examples highlight the potential of wireless technology.

Where communities in the Pacific still remain outside the reach of new expanded service, the duty of the regulatory body should be to ensure that operators are properly incentivized to continue the expansion of networks. For these still existing beyond the reach of connectivity, efforts like those undertaken by HPWREN should be utilized to further the expansion of network coverage.

The newly convened Telecommunications Authority of Fiji (TAF) is to fund its operation from levies collected from operators.  Setting aside a portion of these dollars to fund projects that expand the coverage area (while providing benefit to academic researchers and distance education) might prove worthwhile.  It might also serve as an effective resource to assist industry in continually improving network coverage and performance.