Satellite broadband: An alternative to conventional rural internet
The lack of accessibility to the internet is among the most noticeable problems experienced by communities in rural locations. These communities, aside from being largely poor, are excluded from opportunities that can come from internet access.
The internet has given us a new level of connectivity. As a result, it has become an important tool for commercial and educational opportunities.
In terms of economic activity, enhanced connectivity allows for the easing of processes and real-time monitoring of business operations. Educational opportunities are also plentiful online. In fact, legitimate vocational and university degrees can be earned through learning institutions offering e-learning.
Internet-based technology allows access to information and opportunities, however, people in rural communities who can potentially gain the most from the internet cannot access it.
The rural connectivity problem
Rural communities are generally thinly populated, and poor. Also, most of these communities receive minimal investment for telecommunication infrastructure.
There are numerous barriers discouraging investment. Lower populations in the area translate to lower income potential and a far longer return on investment. The absence of road networks, difficult terrain, and even political conflict are barriers for the construction of necessary infrastructure. As a result, growth in terms of infrastructure and improvement of the internet and mobile services is usually slow in rural areas.
Any solution to the connectivity problem in rural areas requires bypassing of existing barriers to investment. Pushing the government as well as private companies to transfer resources for the creation of telecommunication infrastructures for rural communities is a difficult task.
A space-based solution
To overcome these challenges and provide rural areas with connectivity, a less-conventional approach can be taken. Satellite broadband can solve many of the barriers listed above.
The rapid advancement of broadband infrastructure allows the transmission of data via satellite technology. Instead of cable networks, a satellite can receive and transmit data from space. Satellite systems are not dependent on an extensive network of terrestrial infrastructures, giving satellites an advantage in providing broadband to rural locations.
How satellite broadband works
In a nutshell, a satellite replaces the vast land-based cable networks. The user of a computer or mobile device sends a request for information which then travels through their router and modem to a small outdoor unit. This then transmits data to a satellite in space.
From there, the space satellite receives the data and transmits to a large ground-based telecommunications port, known as a teleport, which then relays data to a network operations center where data is converted and relayed to the internet.
Once the required data is secured, the entire process is reversed ending with the requested data showing in the user’s device.
A World Bank Study found that every 10% increase in broadband penetration results to a corresponding percentage increase in a developing country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Other studies (such as this one from the University of Minnesota) have listed a wide range of benefits rural populations receive from broadband. Given the obvious benefits, satellite broadband should be accessible to all. Sadly, it still isn’t.
The necessary investment that goes into acquiring satellite coverage over a particular location does not come cheap. And for private companies, costs have to be recovered. This can lead to a variety of measures that might affect service. The cost will likely be passed on to the consumers, who in rural areas, are already poor.
Solving the connectivity problem requires a collaboration between public and private sector organizations. To bridge the connectivity gap, governments must take an active role to make broadband access a reality for its poorer populations.
There are many ways where governments can act to encourage the growth and accessibility of broadband in rural locations. It can provide investment incentives to private companies who are willing to take on the challenge of providing broadband service. Another is the development of subsidy schemes to make service costs cheaper.
The internet is increasing the pace at which the world functions and does business. Governments that fail to provide access to its citizens are losing out on a valuable resource. Working on making the internet available for access via satellite technology is the first step towards a more empowered population.
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James Yenbamroong is CEO and Founder of mu Space Corporation. He is constantly searching for ways to use satellite technology to improve the lives of people.