Connecting rural broadband by utilizing hybrid approach

rural broadband in US
Bill Gerski, VP Sales at, Huawei and Joe Franell, CEO of Eastern Oregon Telecom, said that broadband availability in rural areas, especially in our rural communities, continues to be a major topic of concern in our country.

Affordable broadband is a building block for healthy communities. Broadband can spark economic development, support education, and provide residents with access to the news, information and cutting-edge Internet applications that are a fact of life in most other parts of the country. But less than half of rural adults have access to broadband at home, while two-thirds of metropolitan adults do. As the Internet becomes crucial in economics, education, and civic life, communities that are left behind pay a higher price for their lack of access. Rural residents should have access to the same high-speed broadband that many urban residents now receive.

Distance, density and terrain present overwhelming challenges in bringing broadband to rural areas. Many miles of cable must be attached to utility poles or buried, which is expensive. Often residents simply live too far from the necessary equipment for DSL service, or the terrain isn’t suitable for wireless connectivity. Even satellite reception requires a clear view of particular regions of the sky, which isn’t always viable in mountainous or heavily forested regions.
rural Internet ITU chart
Utilizing FTTX, Fixed Wireless and Digital HFC Migration in a hybrid fashion overcomes these challenges while also reducing cost of ownership and increasing speed to market. Ultimately, it enables meeting the needs of an entire community.

Benefits of FTTX, Fixed Wireless and Digital HFC

The initial build-out of an FTTH network is the most expensive part of the process. However, once completed, the cost to add incremental bandwidth to meet consumer demand is extremely low and ongoing operational costs are also low. As a result, once the initial fiber deployment cost is recouped, fiber networks generate significant positive cash flow and scale at minimum cost to meet consumer demand.

Wireless networks can be a good solution for remote, low-density areas, and their ability to offer mobility is a huge value. But as consumers demand higher bandwidths for video services such as YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu, wireless is unable to support it at reasonable cost.  As bandwidth requirements grow, wireless networks must be repeatedly upgraded and cell sizes shrunk to handle higher bandwidths and more subscribers.

Digital HFC (Hybrid Fiber Coax) architecture is an optimal solution for cable operators to migrate to an all-IP network.  While HFC architecture in the past has been the foundation for service growth and diversification, as subscribers’ demand for premium services continues to grow, conventional methods are no longer cost-effective. It is becoming increasingly expensive to break through each successive bandwidth bottleneck in the traditional HFC network. The HFC network needs to migrate towards a distributed Digital HFC network.

How to Use a Hybrid Approach

Obviously, a FTTx deployment (GPON or Active Ethernet) is the most scalable and future-proof option for dense markets.  However, wireless solutions are good solutions that enable you reach houses and users that are in lower density settings where fiber becomes too expensive.  In a recent USA Today article, Google discusses the intense focus they are placing on bringing wireless broadband into homes.  Google intends to solve what’s called “the last mile problem” by laying fiber-optic cables.  These wireless solutions can carry the 1 gigabit per second Internet speed that Google Fiber delivers through fiber-optic cables without the disruptive construction or high cost.

Deploying a hybrid approach is really as simple as picking the most cost-effective method to reach your target customer base with an ultimate goal of migrating entry level technologies to their next evolution over time and as revenues/cash flow permits.

For example, the operator might have an old cable (HFC) plan that is delivering analog video or perhaps even a DOCSIS 1.0 or 2.0 cable modem service.  The customer base is expressing interest in higher speed offerings up to and perhaps to include Gigabit connections.  Rather than just deploying FTTx initially and hoping that the revenues will be there to provide an acceptable ROI, the service provider would instead upgrade the system to a DOCSIS 3.0 or 3.1 HFC architecture.  This might include a distributed CMTS (Cable Modem Termination System) design that requires fiber to be pushed deeper into the network.  This approach greatly reduces CAPEX and time to market while providing ultra-high speed product offerings to the consumer.  At the same time, it pushes fiber deeper into the market, setting the stage for a future FTTx deployment.

But what if the cable plant doesn’t have a large enough pipe to the Internet and building a fiber backbone is cost-prohibitive?  Several providers are currently using microwave (wireless) backhauls in place of a fiber backhaul.   Again, this flexible (hybrid) approach to network design allows for incremental upgrades that conserve cash, shorten ROI, and quickly meet customer demand.

Viewing the hybrid approach from this perspective allows one to quickly see other opportunities.  In the above scenario, the provider might also struggle to reach homes and businesses that are in the outskirts of a population center that has infrastructure such as a cable plant available.  In such a situation, a good approach might be to layer in a fixed wireless (unlicensed or licensed) deployment to reach those addresses.  While the realized speeds are generally not quite as fast, it still provides the most cost-effective means of overcoming the low density and longer distances that rural markets represent.

Rural America and Beyond

Many residents of urban areas receive quality wired Internet services that they take for granted. However, the vast distances that wires must cover to make such services available to rural communities prevent Internet service providers from supplying the same services to these rural areas.  When you don’t have the same access, you quickly realize how valuable it is. There are still millions of Americans and, in fact, billions of people around the world who have no access at all.

Advancements in broadband technology as a solution is important for rural America, but it’s also crucial to bring broadband to as many people on the planet as possible since it opens up many doors to life, education and broader societal development.

Bill Gerski, VP Sales at, Huawei and Joe Franell, CEO of Eastern Oregon Telecom