The Digital Divide: Solutions for Connecting the Forgotten 1 Billion

By Todd Cotts, Senior Principal Product Marketing Manager, Mobile Network Operators

When the world connects, opportunities for progress emerge. Yet roughly half the world’s population — 4 billion people — still are not online. Of those, approximately 3 billion live in areas with access to mobile broadband but aren’t connecting for a variety of reasons. Those reasons range from lack of affordability to limited education.

The other 1 billion, however, aren’t connecting because they can’t. They can’t because they live in places that are so remote that it makes affordable mobile broadband connectivity difficult. Mobile network operators (MNOs) often avoid deploying coverage in these remote and rural and ultra-rural areas because they don’t see the business case for bringing connectivity to these regions. But Intelsat has shown that by integrating space-based cellular backhaul solutions into their networks, MNOs can quickly and cost effectively expand mobile coverage into areas typically considered unfeasible or impractical.

During a recent webinar, Alternative Approaches to Closing the Connectivity Gap, Intelsat and business partner Parallel Wireless discussed ways that can be achieved. Hosted by GSMA Mobile World Live, the webinar looked at specific challenges MNOs face in reaching rural and remote areas with mobile coverage, and how space-based solutions help them address those challenges.

I — along with my co-presenter, Parallel Wireless Director of Sales in Africa, Lux Maharaj — kicked off the webinar by polling attendees and asking: What is the biggest challenge to building mobile coverage in rural and remote areas?

Here’s what attendees said:  

  • 7%: High capital and operational expenses of installing and maintaining remote infrastructure
  • 6%: Low and/or slow return on investment
  • 6%: Lack of supporting infrastructure (i.e., electricity, roads, bridges)

We weren’t surprised by these findings. At Intelsat, we recognize these challenges, which is why we work with MNOs to help them build a business case to expand coverage by integrating space-based backhaul solutions into their network planning.  

Because of their ubiquitous nature, Intelsat’s GEO satellites are ideal for helping operators overcome the most common obstacles associated with terrestrial networks, including distance, topography, and line of sight. When partnered with innovative solar-powered turnkey solutions — like Parallel Wireless’s OpenRAN — Intelsat has proven it can help MNOs rapidly expand their network much more cost-effectively than typical microwave or fiber solutions. Together with Parallel Wireless and others, Intelsat has helped mobile operators quickly deploy 2G, 3G, and 4G LTE services to areas around the world many once thought were impractical or even impossible to connect.

Despite recent advancements in satellite technology, we know some MNOs still are hesitant to incorporate space-based solutions into their network. So, our second poll question asked attendees the following: What is the main impediment to employing satellite-based backhaul in mobile network planning as a means for covering remote areas?

Here’s what attendees said:

  • 8%: Cost of satellite-based backhaul is too high
  • 4%: Lack of familiarity and/or expertise in satellite solutions
  • 4%: Satellites don’t support high-speed broadband

Again, the responses didn’t come as a surprise. As MNOs look to expand market share, increase subscribers and revenue, and reduce churn, the latest, state-of-the-art advancements in space-based non-terrestrial and terrestrial technologies can help operators achieve their business and growth objectives. For example, Intelsat’s next-generation high-throughput satellites, Intelsat EpicNG, have 15 times the throughput of a traditional satellite, delivering MNOs the speed they need while at the same time providing greater efficiencies. Advances in space-based technologies also enable mobile operators to distribute a single pool of capacity across tens and even hundreds of cell sites based on traffic demand, while also delivering a high-performing service experience to end users. The result: lower total cost of ownership.

Intelsat also has introduced managed services that allow MNOs to focus on what they need to focus on — differentiating their services and creating new revenue streams. Intelsat and its business partners provide end-to-end satellite backhaul, including network planning, design, management, and support.

Intelsat knows that when we close the digital divide, society as a whole benefits. As a global citizen, we are on a mission to close the connectivity gap, and that includes not overlooking those who live in the most remote and rural regions of the world. The best way to do that involves continued innovation, new business models, and strong public-private partnerships. 

Click here for a replay of the one-hour webinar, or contact us to learn how we can partner together to bring the forgotten 1 billion people into the global connectivity fold.

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