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The FCC’s RDOF has begun to award $20 billion to service providers. Winners are committed to broadband expansion to under and un-served areas nationwide.

An injection of billions in funding for the deployment of high-speed networks beyond the reach of those today gives hope that rural broadband will not forever continue as an oxymoron or as a bridge too far for IT managers. The rural broadband issue has gotten renewed attention with IT managers having to support a home-based workforce.

Launched last year, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is the FCC’s latest step to fund service provider deployment of broadband networks in rural America. The agency is directing $20.4 billion, over ten years, to finance up to gigabit speed services in unserved rural areas, connecting millions of American homes and businesses to digital infrastructure.

A variety of service providers, including cable companies, telcos, wireless operators, and satellite firms, contended for the funds from the first phase of the RDOF program, which is an extension of the long-running Connect America Fund (CAF) initiative.

Those outlining plans (see below) include Charter, Windstream, LTD Broadband, and SpaceX.

Performance Tiers

The FCC created four performance tiers for RDOF funding. These tiers were weighted, with faster speed, lower latency levels receiving more consideration for funding. The three tiers include a minimum of 25/3 Mbps, a baseline of 50/5 Mbps, an above baseline of 100/20 Mbps, and a gigabit tier of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps.

In the first phase of the reverse auction, $16 billion of the over $20 billion was assigned to address an estimated six million-plus homes and businesses in census blocks that are entirely unserved by voice and broadband with speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps.

Phase II, with a budget of over $4 billion, is focused on those areas that the FCC deemed partially served as well as any areas that were not won in the first phase. It will occur once the FCC receives crucial updated broadband availability data.

Technologies and pricing guideline

The agency is largely leaving it up to carriers which fixed broadband technology they employ to meet the performance ratings mentioned above. In addition, RDOF winners must offer standalone voice service and offer voice and broadband services “at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates offered in urban areas.”

Timeline – a reality check

When will IT managers see the fruits of the FCC’s RDOF efforts?

“I see the RDOF as being impactful beginning in 2022,’’ explained Jeff Heynen, Vice-President of Broadband Access and Home Networking for the Dell’Oro Group, a market research and consultancy. “The operators who were successful bidders still have a way to go regarding site planning and overall preparation before they even get underway with these networks later this year and next year.”

The 2009 stimulus bill, CAF, and CAF II projects showed that these endeavors invariably take a long time to reach fruition, noted Heynen. “So, I am not expecting these to move any faster. I believe this is also consistent with what most of the equipment suppliers (such as ADTRAN, Calix, etc.) have said, as well.”

Plan now, benefit later

Enterprise IT managers in the targeted unserved and underserved rural areas can begin planning for rural broadband later this year. This will entail the following:

  • Engage service providers to learn where they plan to offer broadband connectivity.
  • Work with them to understand what type of service they are planning, where they might pass locations, and whether they will provide it with fiber, fixed wireless, or something else.
  • Determine what type of upgrades will be needed to support the new speeds and services that might be offered by ISPs.
  • Begin to focus now on what lead times are for the devices needed for the upgrades as the industry fights through the issues that are affecting supply chains during COVID-19 times.
  • Be certain that the timeframes for deployment consider the site permitting process in the designated communities.

Winners commit: LTD, Charter, and Windstream

LTD Broadband, a wireless internet service provider (WISP), landed $1.3 billion from the RDOF auction and plans to provide high-speed broadband to unserved areas of 15 states. The company has pledged to provide gigabit speeds to rural areas with its RDOF funds using fiber when necessary to achieve those gigabit speeds.

Cable giant Charter Communications recently announced that the $1.2 billion it landed from the FCC's RDOF program will help drive its planned $5 billion fiber buildout undertaking, which will span 24 states.

Charter says the program alone will drive a 15% increase in Charter's network mileage coverage while expanding its service to more than 1 million previously unserved businesses and homes across the 24-state region.

Charter claims it will be providing the faster speeds with no data caps, modem fees, or annual contracts in place. The company says it will also be able to pitch its mobile voice, VoIP voice, and TV services or bundles to more customers across the rural areas.

Windstream landed over $520 million in the RDOF, funds it will use to expand FTTH internet over ten years to nearly 200,000 locations across its 18-state footprint, according to the carrier. The company’s CEO said he hopes to have shovels in the ground in the second quarter.

Windstream will begin work in all 18 states at once as it uses internal resources and external partners to do the construction. The carrier claims the RDOF build will expand its footprint by 2.5%.

Source: Pixabay

Enterprises to benefit from COVID-19 driven distribution advances, cost reduction efforts, and energy efficiency options.

Few IT managers will be entrusted with asset tracking and monitoring of deep-frozen, lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines distributed worldwide during a once-in-a-century global pandemic.

However, most all IT managers will tell you that keeping tabs on their precious products and related assets in an efficient and affordable manner remains a top priority for their enterprises.

Looking forward, thanks to breakthroughs in printable label trackers, more energy-efficient IoT units, and the interconnection of national carrier networks is shortening the long road to the democratization of powerful asset tracking and monitoring.

IoT tracking considerations

One technology for IoT communications is called Narrowband IoT, or NB IoT. It is in the low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) category, linking devices that need small amounts of data, long battery life, and low bandwidth.

Another approach is called LTE-M. It is short for Long-Term Evolution, Category M1. This scheme enables IoT devices to connect battery-powered devices directly to a 4G network without a gateway.

The core components of IoT asset tracking and monitoring are multi-function modules, power sources, sensors, and flexible communications networks. A new raft of advances promises to power the two capabilities forward from medium use to the eventual goal of massive IoT.

Powering up(ward)

Though the cold chain is near the oldest IoT use case, it is a prime example of one that needs more powerful trackers, which currently use battery power. Assets like vaccines often need to be shipped extra-long distances, in some cases halfway around the world.

The answer is longer-life batteries that can handle heavier power consumption to better support the broader asset monitoring. Asset tracking and monitoring use cases that do not span the globe and may be regional or national can get by with less powerful and less expensive units.

Look ma, no batteries!

Though most of the asset tracking and monitoring operations feature various types of batteries, with the price of many dropping as the market evolves, there will soon be an alternative that promises to cut energy costs for outdoor assets.

Last November, SODAQ of Netherlands invented a solar-powered cellular IoT asset tracker which does not need a battery. The unit is the first of its kind, according to Nordic Semiconductor, which supplies the NB-IoT/LTE-M chip into the device.

The device, dubbed Track Solar, is not one of those super-cool-but-never-to-be-seen gadgets we'd often see at the Consumer Electronics Show every January. And it is not slide-ware. That is because SODAQ has already deployed the innovative device for a cattle-tracking application that uses solely harvested sunlight for its energy source.

For those seeking the device specifications, the solar-powered unit weighs 100 grams and includes a light sensor, accelerometer, temperature sensor, and status LEDs, and is powered by a 0.5-Watt solar panel. Its positional accuracy is said to be 100-plus meters for cellular. It also works with Wi-Fi and GPS. “By eliminating the need for battery replacement, the tracker… also eliminates the single biggest cost factor in large-scale IoT tracking installations and so supports high volume, low-cost cellular IoT tracking applications,” according to the company. But it is not the only breakthrough expected to drive broader IoT deployments.

It is well suited to a range of logistics, offshore, site management, and general asset tracking applications, according to SODAQ.

Bayer targets massive IoT headaches

Aiming to simplify, smarten and reduce costs of tracking assets in widescale IoT deployments, pharmaceutical, and life sciences company Bayer announced last October a printable NB-IoT-based tracking label, which goes for a couple of euros (as opposed to about 5 euros each) to monitor its products through the supply chain.

The global enterprise partnered with carrier Vodafone, which has been busily interconnecting wireless networks to support the growing need for roaming to support broadscale asset tracking, and other key innovators.

Bayer’s smart tracking label includes cellular SIM (iSIM) functionality in the communications module, a battery, microprocessor, antenna, modem, and a few sensors. The company worked with Vodafone, Arm, chipmaker Altair Semiconductor and module manufacturer Murata.

The goal of the broad undertaking is to “constantly track anything, anywhere,” according to Altair.

Linking country networks

With the steady and growing demand for IoT networks and managed services for tracking and monitoring – be it for cattle or vaccine shipments – carriers have been connecting their networks to enable roaming beyond country borders.

This trend accelerated last year with Deutsche Telekom connecting their national networks with those operated by Vodafone Business, Telia, Swisscom, and others. The GSMA Association has estimated that 18 European countries are offering NB-IoT roaming, and that was as of last year. AT&T has connected networks with Vodafone.

Enterprise IT managers should expect greater coverage this year and beyond, as additional countries interconnect their national networks to offer corporations great coverage for tracking and monitoring using the IoT approach.

Ask questions first, act later

With most all advances, breakthroughs, and other promising developments comes the need for enterprise IT managers to also avoid taking fundamentals - such as SLAs – for granted.

Enterprise IT managers would be well advised to also ask network providers about "how they plan and design networks, the robustness of their network server, the administration tools they provide, and how they qualify and support sensor-enabled IoT devices at scale," cautions Bruce Chatterley, CEO of IoT network operator Senet. Beyond network infrastructure, they need to inquire about the levels of customer, and technical support offered."

Cornell University uses an NSF grant for a low-budget system to bring Internet connectivity to cities, towns, and villages.

The expense of fighting Covid-19 and state coffers depleted by business restrictions and outright closures has made countless new networking projects a bridge too far for blue and red states alike.

But amid the global pandemic, Cornell University in New York has secured a $!.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to design and build a statewide IoT network. It will bridge the digital divide and set the stage for new and more efficient applications to all municipalities.

A model for state IT teams

The closely watched public IoT project will likely result in the first statewide IoT network in the U.S., making it a model for IT managers elsewhere in the country also looking to accelerate the introduction of IoT for all in the toughest of times.

Key to the innovative project is the use of the Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) architecture that uses lower-speed WAN links to connect far-flung devices such as sensors that use long-lifetime (10+ years) batteries to power the system.

Closing the digital divide?

The public IoT network plans to bridge the digital divide that exists between New York City in the east to small communities in upstate New York along the Canadian border. And while high-speed services in big cities across the country are table stakes, broadband connections are still a tough find in rural areas, which also suffer from spotty or no cellular service.

The grant’s abstract explains that the work is motivated by an imperative need to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban areas, which it says “has contributed not only to information disparities, but also greater social, democratic, educational, and economic disparities.” The research will test the concept of IoT networks as a public utility to bridge the digital divide. “This project explicitly sees rural communities as opportunities for developing new networked technologies which can leapfrog traditional wired broadband technologies and create new opportunities for local technological development and innovation.”

Getting started

In August, Cornell engineers and researchers landed the NSF grant. They will work with community partners in each county around New York through the Cornell Cooperative Extension. The entity, the CCE, has been described as a network of independent associations located in each county in the state and the boroughs of New York City. The organization teams with local communities “to translate research into practical projects through data-based programs and services.”

The game plan

“We aim to create a public Internet of Things model that works here and then becomes replicable for other states,” Max Zhang, a professor in Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, told the Cornell Chronicle. "We want to provide universal network coverage, ensure data privacy, promote responsible data-sharing, scale-up successful Internet of Things implementations, and spur technology innovation in underserved areas."

The chief goal of the IoT network project is to provide all New Yorkers access to the Internet. That is because while densely populated areas, suburbs, and major transportation routes are already being fitted with wireline and wireless broadband infrastructures, rural areas still suffer from spotty access to broadband and often lack cellular service.

“You need to create a reliable internet of things infrastructure to handle a digital world,” said Max Zhang, a professor in Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the project’s principal investigator. “This is an opportunity for rural communities. You cannot have a digital revolution in digital darkness.”

With that in mind, the statewide IoT network should provide uniform network connectivity to a system that reaches all residents. What that is expected to do is use the LPWAN architecture to support a long potential list of IoT applications that have the following characteristics: long-range, low-power, and low-bandwidth.

The following anticipated IoT applications to be supported on the statewide net include:

  • Remote meter reading for utility firms
  • Traffic monitoring
  • Realtime road and flood monitoring
  • Crop and livestock monitoring for farmers
  • Building management

LPWAN selling points

The designers and creators of the New York statewide IoT network selected LPWAN technology for the network for several reasons.

  1. The technology is long since tried and true as a staple by entire vertical industries (oil and gas and utilities among them) to monitor and manage their pipelines and transmission facilities.
  2. LPWAN networks are anything but expensive as their core components; sensors and long-life battery-powered, attached devices are inexpensive can run for a decade without replacements.
  3. These battery-powered devices, such as sensors, transmit a small amount of data, typically to a central or regional location. This keeps bandwidth usage charges low.

Early returns

Early on, Tompkins County began providing its residents with free IoT access, according to Ken Schlather, executive director of the Tompkins branch of the CCE, who is expected to coordinate the networking project’s community engagement with each county in New York. He claimed a pilot program of IoT-enabled commercial buildings reported energy cost savings of between 15% and 30%, which he added, was similar to results from its other, larger studies.

The statewide IoT network undertaking is also an educational effort, wrote the NSF in the grant’s abstract. "This project not only creates the first introductory course in IoT at Cornell University but also expands the engaged learning opportunities to citizen across [New York State] through innovative, community-based learning hubs; a model that can be replicated across the U.S.”

Image source: Pixabay

After the failure to launch a market sector in the 1990s, a largely new field of players is betting big on high-speed services for a very different world.

Before the close of the 20th century, an entity called Iridium launched a network of low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites designed to provide enterprises, the military, and the government an out-of-this-world resource for communications links to virtually any location back on planet Earth.

Iridium’s constellation of satellites initially focused on telephony applications in the decade-long, pre-iPhone era. Motorola-backed Iridium survived a LEO constellation market segment shakeout that hit others, including Globalstar, Teledesic, and Odyssey.

Now fast forward to 2020, where Elon Musk's SpaceX, Amazon, Telesat, and OneWeb are vying to fully take flight to support next-gen networking-driven initiatives here on Earth, likely providing IT managers with fresh new options for supporting new and rearchitected business undertakings.

With earlier geostationary satellites, several high-orbit birds could provide global coverage, albeit from over 22,000 above Earth. With LEOs, which are set at about 100-1,200 miles above the planet, a LEO can cover about 1/66th of the globe, which means a large constellation of birds is required for true blanket global coverage. Though they have shorter lifespans, they are more advanced and less expensive.

As a result, today’s LEO satellite networks promise higher-throughput, lower-delay communications that provide more bandwidth per user, “even more than cable, copper, and pre-5G fixed wireless,” states a report released by McKinsey & Co. earlier this year.

Changing uses

Early LEOs were commonly used for voice communication and military applications. However, this latest generation of operators are expected to offer HD video streaming, higher-bandwidth data communications, and provide rural broadband to bridge the digital divide. Most of their former voice traffic is carried on terrestrial wireless and wired networks.

Musk’ SpaceX had already launched a constellation with over 400 LEO satellites by April (with more to come) under the Starlink brand name. Telesat will start with over 100 birds, with more available, and Amazon has already filed to launch 32,000 plus satellites in its constellation.

Under Amazon’s Project Kuiper, the company will invest $10 billion in an FCC-approved plan to launch 3,326 LEO satellites.

Yet another competitor is OneWeb, which has emerged from bankruptcy under new management and with new funding just before Thanksgiving. It plans to recommence satellite launches in December, toward its initial goal of 650.

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Source: Pixabay

Technology is allowing IT managers to address safety concerns with sensors now; smartphone chips on the way.

Faced with fighting a global pandemic that shows no signs of letting up, organizations in multiple verticals are beginning to use shirt-distance, low-power Ultra-Wideband (UWB) radio technology to power their social distancing and contact tracing operations today.

Around for years, UWB provides a highly accurate, low-power, robust, and secure wireless technology for locating a device's position, movement, and distance. The tech supports very high bandwidth communications and works over a wide range of frequencies, hence the name ultra-wideband.

UWB has experienced growing momentum in recent months, as more companies offer devices or chipsets that support the technology, according to a recent forecast from ABI Research, a global tech market advisory firm.

Supporters claim UWB is more reliable than nearfield communications (NFC), Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi-based smartphone apps for tracing. UWB is currently used with sensors initially designed for implementations in large factories. With Covid-19 gripping the masses, companies in verticals, including entertainment, chemical, construction, and food and beverage, have embraced it for contact tracing.

Taking the Field

Though established and proven, UWB has lacked a high-profile while similar options grabbed the headlines. That changed in August when the National Football League (NFL) announced that UWB would handle its contact tracing and social distancing efforts – an undertaking crucial to the league's ability to play the 2020-2021 season within the states' rules COVID-19 handling mandates.

"Each player and each staff member of each team (has been) issued wearable tags, and they will be on at all times during practice sessions, games, and times of team travel," the NFL said. The organization estimated that it would deploy up to 2,000 such sensors across the country during the season.

The NFL told the FCC is "doing everything possible to ensure that the teams, their staff, and the NFL operations personnel maintain safe distances and that, should a case of coronavirus occur, that there is contact tracing in place to be able to limit the spread of the virus."

How It Works

The NFL's system uses sensors that interact with each other and provide audible and visual alarms if people get too close for more than a few seconds. The tags can be worn on a lanyard, a clip, or on a wristband. The league added some players also had them built into equipment typically used in practice and games. The National Basketball League (NBA) also uses UWB-based contact tracing.

UWB does this by transmitting data across short distances and precisely determines location by measuring how long it takes for a radio pulse to travel between devices. The frequency range of UWB is between 3.1 and 10.6 GHz

The UWB-enabled system assesses which employees had contact with an infected person and are at the greatest risk of exposure. When it comes to pinpointing location, systems often report a 10-centimeter precision, with some reporting less than 5 centimeters.

The Cost Component

There does not appear to be much in the way of system cost(s) available to IT managers considering UWB-driven contract tracing and social distancing system. Beyond the necessary bandwidth, Kinexon, which teamed with the NFL, claims a low of 70 cents per sensor per day, which adds to the equation.

Those planning or considering implementing a UWB-based contact tracing system should first check to see if they have enough spectrum to avoid interference with other wireless applications.

The NFL did just that and determined there was a significant threat of interference with its player tracking system, which uses chips in players’ pads to gather data that results in slick graphics known to all as Next-Gen Stats.

According to a filing by the league, the league asked for and received permission from the Federal Communications Commission to use a slice of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band for the 2020-2021 season.

This will allow the league to support safe operations during using low-power, body-worn wireless sensors for players and staff to promote social distancing and COVID-19 contact tracing this season.

The current players in UWB-driven contact tracing are hardly household names, but like Kinexon, they've gathering steam in the enterprise IT space. Currently, Iterate Labs, Ubisense, Piper Networks, Qorvo, and Bluecats are addressing soaring IT managers’ need for tools for contact tracing among employees in this year (and likely more) of Covid-19 as the virus has long since gone global.

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Image source: Pixabay

CBRS Spectrum Auction Transforms Enterprise Cellular Landscape

Some might find auctions where participants hold up paddles or pull their ear lobes to bid on a cherished asset exciting. But it’s an easy bet that the real action after the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) will come early next year when enterprises look to establish advanced wireless networks.

Utilities, universities, hospitality companies, and energy firms acted on the opportunity and bid on and, in some cases, landed licenses for CBRS use for planned private networks. And because the FCC stipulated winners must use or resell them rather than become squatters, it is safe to assume there are hard and fast plans for their use by enterprises for wireless networks.

But large users seeking spectrum for private LTE networks is a face grabber. The CBRS auction is made real a wide variety of additional enterprise cellular options – and providers - to IT managers. Among them are hybrid networks, managed service, connectivity as-a-service offerings, and turnkey networks together expected to steal the spotlight starting in early 2021.

Nobody left behind

Those enterprises that didn't bid on CBRS spectrum are anything but out of business as the haves (providers) are looking at ways to deliver wireless networks using licensed and unlicensed CBRS spectrum to provide an alluring range of wireless network options. And the winning bidders can lease out their unused space to anyone to avoid losing it, which has some expecting a secondary market or CBRS exchange accessible to the user masses.

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