One size does not fit all

Posted 3/13/23

Multiple approaches can be used to create high-speed, dependable broadband for rural areas.

Edgar County residents working as a committee with the Illinois Soybean Association to gather …

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One size does not fit all


Multiple approaches can be used to create high-speed, dependable broadband for rural areas.

Edgar County residents working as a committee with the Illinois Soybean Association to gather information about the lack of local service participated in a Zoom meeting Thursday, March 9, with Mike Barts, senior engineer with the Wireless Research Center (WRC) at Wakefield, N.C. WRC is a not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to educate the public about wireless application and promote wireless technology for local economic development.

Barts emphasized rural broadband access faces challenges not present in urban areas. That does not mean it is impossible but multiple approaches to gain coverage may need employed rather than a single system.

“In an ideal world, we would all love to have a one-gigabyte wire coming to the house,” said Barts.

He emphasized a fiber optic line to a house or business is the most efficient and fastest way to deliver internet service. Some places may not be able to get fiber optics and the other issue is a fiber optic line is a fixed terminus.

Farm operations may require internet access in out building or in tractors and combines and that requires mobility represented by antennas and repeaters mounted on towers about the countryside. That brings up the issue of range versus speed/data rate.

Barts said the higher the speed, the less range covered by wireless devices. He added the goal is always to get data back to a wired connection for faster transmission.

Much of presentation dealt with the hardware needed for the various types of networks and innovations in those fields.

He explained the letter G as used in 4G and 5G simply refers to generation and the generation changes approximately every 10 years with major upgrades and capability. Currently 5G networks are getting built in urban areas where infrastructure supports it.

The advantage of 5G is high data rates of between 1 and 10 gigabits per second. Local internet for Edgar County operates with data rates figured in the megabits per second.

Another advantage to 5G is low latency which means the massive data does not slow the transmission and create lag time while the home computer or a mobile device communicates with a data center.

The disadvantage for 5G is a short range, and it is easily blocked by trees and buildings.

“It is not likely to come to rural areas,” said Barts. 

He repeated the best internet option is getting a fiber optic line to the house and then creating a wireless system from that point to serve each operation’s unique needs.

Barts said it is important for consumers to know their needs, have some knowledge of the technology available in the area and avoid falling for what he called market speak of salespeople.

“Each farm may need curated solutions,” he said.

Responding to a question about satellite internet, Barts said that technology is not all its promoters claim.

He said from an engineering standpoint, satellite service is brittle. If a satellite fails, it is not easily repaired or replaced. Buried fiber optic cables rarely fail unless struck during excavation and repairs are generally quick.

As more satellites are placed in orbit the statistical chances of a collision increases which not only destroys two satellites but also creates a spreading debris field that may knock others out of service.

He said it is not hard to imagine a catastrophic event leaving large numbers of people without service.

The expense also gives him pause. He said satellite service requires the installation of expensive equipment, plus a monthly fee to receive data. Inclement weather and heavy cloud cover can disrupt service, but customers are still charged.

The latency issue with satellite service is the biggest negative for Barts. He said while it offers great speed on the download for content, satellite has significant latency for uploading data. A satellite customer can see movies fine but may not be able to participate in a video call because of latency.

“It is ultimately cheaper for a user to stay on land networks,” said Barts. “Satellite technology can complement everything, but it is not the only solution.”

It was also noted the development of local high-speed internet capacity becomes part of a community’s infrastructure network which has the potential to attract future economic development. Such infrastructure does not exist with satellite service.