- Published: 12 October 2021
Primary devices and sheer volume of data have fundamentally shifted since we first became accustomed to online communication. As we turn the page again and look toward the next generation of connectivity on our smartphones, vehicles and more, wireless mesh networks are becoming an increasingly leveraged way to bridge the digital divide. By utilizing existing devices all around us as cell towers, this type of network can be exploited to expand coverage at a scale that can be substantially greater than conventional wireless networks alone.
In addition, by using multiple nodes for signal access, data isn’t obstructed or bottlenecked in the same way it might be on a single router or point of presence. In utilizing nodes as decentralized transfer points, mesh networks are able to bring connectivity to people in distant, costly or rigorous scenarios across the globe - making them key to closing the digital divide.
Creating significant positive rural impacts
According to a recent report from the FCC, 39% of rural Americans lack access to high-speed internet - compared to just 4% of their urban counterparts. This staggering figure adds insult to injury in rural areas, considering other disparities that can be mutually prohibitive for communities also fighting income gaps, low population density, a lack of access to healthcare and more. For many rural Americans, high-speed internet is an expense that many can’t afford.
However, quality internet is a resource that can help to improve everyday life in these areas and remains worth pursuing, even among the obstacles. One reason wireless mesh networks are proving a fit for this gap is that they offer a lower-cost option for communities to connect to high-speed access through smart placements of communications devices, without requiring massive infrastructure changes.
One example of this is found on U.S. Tribal lands, which have begun utilizing 2.5GHz spectrum to access networks and to deploy mesh systems in places that were previously never reached by providers. These networks impact rural communities by creating access that addresses needs in healthcare, agriculture and social services with targeted nodes, spectrum usage and more.
In agriculture, wireless mesh networks can be used to extend existing network connectivity for households, facilities and industrial equipment located beyond the line-of-site of a cell tower, or in an area that doesn’t receive stable coverage. As a result, mesh networks can enable the operation of irrigation controllers, network cameras, security, outbuildings and other connected components of today’s Fourth Industrial Revolution in areas that might not otherwise have access to it. Enabling devices to operate as connected relays can transform mobile farming equipment like tractors, combines and irrigation systems - helping to significantly impact day-to-day processes.
For those with limited access to healthcare, another common disparity among rural communities, wireless mesh networks can help to bridge the gap between rural Americans and doctors via telehealth resources or even supporting medical providers with mobile clinics and pop-up healthcare services.
When crises arise, these networks can also assist first responders to ensure public safety in areas where connectivity may not be universal. Particularly during mission-critical situations such as hurricanes, wildfires and snowstorms, off-grid mesh networks can be formed between devices without the need for a satellite or cell tower as an origin. As a result, a location that isn’t navigable to typical response could receive critical networking and signals — even when power and service are down - from specialized nodes deployed onsite.
Extending network coverage beyond the cellular tower line of sight
Much of the potential for mesh networks lies in allowing users to transmit data directly between devices, rather than relying only on a centralized network. Most centralized telecommunication networks use cellular towers that transmit signals to a coverage area nearby. This often limits a signal’s reach, which is what leaves many people on the outskirts of a coverage area without a signal. Those that live beyond a cell tower’s reach encounter dead cell zones, faulty connectivity and lagging internet speeds as an everyday reality. Conversely, those who are in spaces where too many devices are attempting to communicate with one tower can experience poor speeds and connectivity due to bottlenecking. This occurs when too many devices attempt to exchange data with one access point, and it creates a poor experience for users in many cities, events and even crowded emergency response sites.
Building additional network infrastructure in dead cell zones can become a problem, however, especially in rural communities and areas with hilly terrain. Often that is why these areas encounter internet access that is slower or more expensive; it’s a result of the challenging infrastructure requirements in that terrain. The complexity of building and spending on cellular towers is a looming concern for many Americans in places without enough resources to get the initial coverage, let alone keep up with generational upgrades.
Wireless mesh networks are one capable answer, by offering a degree of resiliency that ensures more reach, provides faster service and helps expand connectivity. With self-healing capabilities across multiple device pathways (meaning that these networks can detect, react and respond to problems within its system without intervention), wireless mesh networks also offer increased network management control and optimized performance.
Powering long-term economic success
Wireless mesh networks are a tool that changes the way economic progress is achieved in many communities lacking the resources to build or expand a large cellular infrastructure. With added network management capabilities, wireless mesh networks can also keep data from businesses and consumers safe through streamlined connections and security, in addition to that provided by traditional networks.
More and more of urban America is also looking forward to “smart city” capabilities impacting urban planning. For example, cities like Baltimore, Louisville, Kentucky and Houston are utilizing various forms of mesh technology to revitalize neighborhoods, equip low-income residents with internet access and improve public safety, revenue, energy consumption and more.
Perhaps surprisingly to many, high-speed access problems are not limited to rural communities. Data from the American Community Survey found that 57% of Detroit residents lacked quality Internet. Traditional networks are sometimes obstructed by the materials found in buildings, density of users and distance. For urban zones like these, mesh technology and nodes can be incorporated to create a telecommunications ecosystem that sits over-the-top of traditional networks to keep communities connected through more buildings and greater distances. This sort of ecosystem would be beneficial for small business owners with home offices, remote employees and more. The capabilities for wireless mesh networks to help grow businesses in areas like inner cities, Tribal lands and rural communities are a promising potential effect as more businesses become digital.
The telecommunications space is continually evolving to meet the needs of more people. For the millions of Americans that are impacted by the digital divide, wireless mesh networks could be the secret sauce that helps them stay connected, no matter their situation.
Autor(en)/Author(s): Matt Perdew
Quelle/Source: The Fast Mode, 05.10.2021