In Rural Areas, Network Realities Limit the Otherwise Unlimited Potential of the Internet of Things
The expanding internet of things promises to make rural life more accessible and more efficient. Unfortunately, the current rural mobile broadband and satellite networks available in rural areas do not support the large volume of internet connected devices that the internet of things requires, and limit the potential of the internet of things.
The Internet of Things – A Network of Devices
The growing number of internet connected devices – smartphones, cameras, watches, sports gear, locks, lights, cars – make up the high-volume device network known as the internet of things (IoT). These devices exchange data with each other via the internet, so that their functions can be automated and/or controlled by the user remotely.
Rural internet users have, perhaps, the most to gain from the IoT. Because physical distance is more of an issue in rural than in urban or suburban areas, rural dwellers have a greater need to connect to their work places, homes, families, and friends remotely.
The IoT allows you to, for example, check if you locked your doors or turned off your heating without having to drive all the way home. If your locks and heating are connected to the IoT, you can turn them on or off from anywhere with just the touch of a smartphone screen.
The IoT also makes it easy to care for and monitor the health of an elderly relative or sick family member. Internet connected healthcare equipment – much of it, admittedly, still in development – communicates directly with you, your doctor, or the nearest emergency services.
Greater online connectivity would bring individuals closer to employers, even employers hundreds of miles away. Remote work connects rural individuals to lucrative urban and online markets, making rural living more gainful by expanding the rural job market.
In rural areas, the IoT has the potential to connect physically isolated communities to superior healthcare, education, employment, and security services. It also has the potential to improve the efficiency of daily home and work life and to connect rural individuals to people and cultural events all around the world.
Rural Networks Limit the Potential of the Internet of Things
Unfortunately, many of today’s rural internet networks do not have the capacity to support the transformative potential of the IoT. Both mobile broadband and satellite networks have bandwidth too limited to support a high volume of devices. Unreliable connectivity also makes it impractical for rural internet users to depend on connected devices for healthcare or security.
If we want to transform rural living with the IoT, internet service providers must first build a backbone of strong, reliable rural networks.
What’s Being Done?
Because improving networks in sparsely populated areas is often less than profitable for internet companies, the United States government has invested over $260 billion in mobile broadband expansion in the last seven years . Today, 3G is widely available in rural areas largely thanks to FCC and USDA investments.
Of course, 3G (especially the 3G coverage available in rural areas) does not have the bandwidth to support high volumes of devices.
Neither, for that matter, does 4G LTE. In fact, increasing the number of devices on a single network without compromising network performance is one of the main goals of 5G, the next generation of mobile broadband.
Due to the infrastructure limitations of cable and DSL and to the inefficiencies of satellite internet, mobile broadband networks are the best bet for bringing the potential of the Internet of Things to rural areas. Government investment and private technological advancements are key to expanding access to all rural dwellers.