While people in large cities and populated urban areas may take connectivity on-the-go for granted, the truth is that for many rural communities, mobile broadband remains painfully out of reach. This lack of mobile access doesn’t just mean people are missing out on their social media updates and phone calls; on the contrary, it remains a significant barrier to job opportunities and upward mobility in general.
To narrow the mobile divide between rural and urban communities, mobile operators are responding to local community and state regulatory pressure to ensure mobile cellular coverage is not just "voice-capable" but also "mobile broadband-capable." In 2019, an estimated US$20.2 billion will be invested in developed and emerging market rural cell-sites, a 1.2% increase from 2018.
To beef up and expand coverage, mobile operators and infrastructure vendors are also changing the way that cell sites are deployed. Along with a macro base station, sites are now being complemented with low-cost small cells that can deliver coverage to specific rural villages or towns. As a result, small cell unit shipments will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.9% to reach US$2.2 billion by the end of 2024.
New Capabilities. New Offerings.
Novel engineering and manufacturing processes have not just made rural cell-site solutions cheaper but also more versatile. Innovative re-inventions of the traditional cell site include Huawei’s RuralStar Lite and Nokia’s Kuha cell-site. Huawei claims that it has been able to reduce the cost of its RuralStar Lite solution to around US$20,000, thereby offering a faster return on investment time of between three to five years.
The Facebook-backed Telecom Infra Project (TIP) ventures, such as Parallel Wireless vRAN and Fairwaves base station solutions, have radically altered the typical cell-site total cost of ownership model for the operator. Furthermore, tethered and untethered, “balloon-based” solutions such as Altaeros’ SuperTower and Alphabet’s Loon will potentially disrupt the macro cell-site business model.
As far as mobile network operators, several are taking proactive steps to prioritize the coverage needs of their rural end-users. For example, Telefonica has enabled mobile connectivity in remote Latin America by using the Parallel Wireless vRAN solution, which features multi-mode and carrier capabilities. Vodafone Egypt and Vipnet Croatia are some of the operators who have adopted Ericsson Psi Coverage, a low-cost RAN solution designed to utilize a single radio unit for rural deployment. There are also novel initiatives to combine solar-powered small cells with off-grid lithium batteries to provide communications and power to local communities.
For a deeper dive into the the evolution of mobile cellular solutions in rural areas, download our new Application Analysis report, Mobile Cellular Deployment Solutions for Rural Cell Sites.