Cisco is assembling wireless and wireline partners to help it secure a share of the USA’s various funding schemes to bring broadband connectivity to rural areas.
On the wireless side, Cisco has teamed up with MuralNet, a non-profit organization that helps indigenous communities build and operate their own broadband networks. Together, the two organizations have launched the Sustainable Tribal Network program, helping tribal communities to deploy fixed wireless access (FWA) in areas where there is no broadband, or where they want an alternative to privately provided services.
MuralNet has developed a network-in-a-box that can connect up to 25 homes for less than $15,000. With Cisco’s help, it aims to take advantage of the FCC’s ‘Tribal Priority Window’. This was announced a year ago when the FCC voted to eliminate restrictions on the usage of the 2.5 GHz EBS (Educational Broadband Service), which was previously reserved for analog video services for schools and colleges. The regulator also created a priority filing window that gave tribal nations the first chance to apply for the unassigned 2.5 GHz airwaves, before offering them up for auction to regular MNOs.
That window ended on September 3, and among 574 tribal entities, the FCC said it received 121 complete applications and 384 incomplete (which can be corrected up to September 23). Any unclaimed licences will be auctioned in the first half of next year.
This clearly opens up an opportunity for vendors of FWA equipment, whether 4G or 5G, which can use the 2.5 GHz band to deliver services to these many tribal entities. According to the FCC, 1.5m people on tribal reservations do not have basic wireless services, and 36% have no broadband, compared to 8% on non-tribal lands.
The Sustainable Tribal Network program is part of Cisco’s ‘Internet for the Future’ initiative, announced in December 2019. Another element is the opening of a Rural Broadband Innovation Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, next month. This aims to demonstrate the steps needed for converging wireline and wireless infrastructure and services in order to deliver more cost-effective broadband.
On the wireline side of the rural broadband equation, Cisco is working with TruVista, a service provider to telcos based in Chester, South Carolina. TruVista is in the process of deploying 257 miles of fiber to support broadband services in 81 square miles of unserved communities. Using a $9.1m grant from USDA Re-Connect, it plans to reach more than 1,700 additional homes by using Cisco’s Rural Broadband network solutions, and elements of the vendor’s Mass Scale infrastructure portfolio, which includes the ASR 900 routers, 100G/200G transceiver modules, NCS 5500 routers, NCS 5542 routers, IOS-XR software and Cisco Umbrella security.
Cisco will also, of course, have its eye on the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which will allocate its first funds from October. In phase one, up to $16bn will be awarded.