Partnerships with influential businesses and nonprofit groups give Connected Nation (CN) and its Connected Community Engagement Program the tools to reach more communities and connect more residents to fast, reliable broadband. One of Connected’s newest partners, 2pifi, expands broadband networks into the most challenging rural areas, creating powerful networks through innovative technology when many other options have failed.
The radio towers or fiber lines that broadband relies on may be blocked by mountains and trees, community zoning ordinances, protected wildlife areas, or, most commonly, insufficient demand. Many rural areas don’t provide enough broadband customers to justify the investment. While carriers in rural communities may build fiber lines or copper lines throughout the town, these systems do little good without a large data connection to a central fiber line, called backhaul. 2pifi uses existing assets and leverages microwave technology to provide backhaul.
“We’re a backbone provider,” said Andrew Kelly, Director of Business Development at 2pifi. “We’re not going to bring Internet to someone’s house, but we’ll bring it to the local cable company. We provide the local infrastructure.”
Lake Isabella, California, was blocked from a global fiber network by the Sierra Nevada mountains. When 2pifi’s parent company was denied broadband access for a client in the area due to a lack of available bandwidth, Andrew Kelly and Chris Kelly, now CEO of 2pifi, found a solution.
“People couldn’t even use e-mail,” said Chris Kelly about Lake Isabella. “It was a stranded fiber and copper network. Point-to-point within the city would’ve been fine, but everyone wanted Netflix and Netflix is in Los Angeles. They couldn’t get any significant Internet capacity there.”
Though the ISP in Lake Isabella had made extensive efforts to install a more powerful fiber backbone to supply more bandwidth, they were blocked by ordinances from the Forest Service, National Parks Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other groups protecting the land’s valuable habitats. Locked in a years-long regulatory battle with no end in sight, the ISP agreed to try a different way, suggested by 2pifi.
On the other side of the mountains, speeds were high with only about 30% of available data being used. If a connection could somehow transfer megabits over the mountain without installing fiber, Lake Isabella would have the backhaul it needed.
“We designed a microwave link to go back to Ridgecrest,” Chris Kelly explained. “We did a physical site survey and found a tower that had line-of-sight to the end of the fiber cable.” With microwave signals hopping from the end of the fiber line in Ridgecrest to towers over the mountains and then to Lake Isabella, the connection was complete. Lake Isabella finally had the necessary backhaul, with no need to dig up protected land and install fiber lines.
“The bits don’t care what they’re going over, they’re all the same,” said Chris Kelly. “We use licensed microwave systems to take the data coming in and out of the network and push it over radio waves.”
The microwave systems are similar to the signals used to power the Internet on smartphones, only much stronger.
When fiber connections become available, the microwave systems become a secondary, redundant connection. In this way, 2pifi’s microwave technology may be a short-term solution for companies that require extra data while fiber networks are being installed, or they may add extra reliability in case fiber lines are damaged. In Lake Isabella’s case, fiber lines are still locked under regulations, and most residents don’t know why they can now open e-mails and watch Netflix. For many other rural areas across the nation, the situation is similar.
“We have these ugly, hard, nasty problems and we get them solved and we shock people,” said Chris Kelly. “A lot of people just don’t believe it and once they try it they say, ‘wow, this really can be done.’”
With this partnership, the Connected Program can share 2pifi’s services with communities that desperately need a creative approach for their own backhaul problems.
“I like the Connected approach,” said Andrew Kelly. “Connected Nation is creating an environment where they bring people together to solve their problems.”
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