Wireless Networks for Rural Distance Learning Telemedicine and Digital Inclusion

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Wireless Networks for Rural Distance Learning Telemedicine and Digital Inclusion
GCTC logo 344x80.png
Distance Learning Telemedicine.jpg
JVSV Distance Learning Telemedicine
Team Organizations Wireless
Joint Venture Silicon Valley
Team Leaders David Witkowski
Mohammad Shakouri
City, State San Jose CA
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Most U.S. states have ordered residents to shelter-in-place in response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. This presents significant challenges for residents in areas with poor or no broadband service, preventing them from using the internet to access distance learning resources, contact health care providers while remaining sheltered, accessing online shopping, and other online activities that most people take for granted. Residents need three things to overcome digital inclusion gaps: a suitable computing device, high-speed internet, and digital literacy. People with Access & Functional Needs (AFNs) cannot easily overcome the digital inclusion challenge without assistance from local governments, telecommunication providers, and corporate partners. Some AFN communities are attempting to creatively solve the connectivity challenge by retrofitting school buses and “Bookmobiles” with Wi-Fi equipment and then parking them in neighborhoods with AFN residents. In some cases, schools and public libraries are petitioning the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to waive some E-rate rules so they can open up their networks to the surrounding community. There are some significant downsides to this approach:

  • Wi-Fi coverage is limited to coverage of about 200 feet.
  • Wi-Fi signals are less likely to penetrate walls and windows.
  • It encourages people to gather near the hotspot & ignore social distancing.

An alternative that can provide broadband service to AFN residents in areas that are unserved or underserved by existing telecommunication networks is to enhance the 4G LTE infrastructure to provide additional coverage – specifically indoor coverage – to a broader range of locations, by building temporary wireless sites near the areas of need. Once the sites are in place, government or community groups can provide AFN residents with a hotspot, or an inexpensive smartphone to be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot. There are various configurations possible to provide broadband service to the largest number of AFN residents while keeping costs low, utilizing available equipment, and operating within legal and regulatory constraints:

  • COWs, COLTs, RDSs, with local fiber backhaul
  • Aerostat for coverage, with local fiber backhaul
  • COWs/COLTs/RDSs, with Aerostat-based backhaul
  • Aerostat for coverage, with wireless backhaul

This concept paper Wireless Networks for Distance Learning details each of these configurations, examines the pros and cons of each method, and explores funding options.