Coverage "Donuts" Could Connect 99% of Humans

How to connect the unconnected remains a key issue in most markets, for the simple reason that rural areas are difficult places to build infrastructure that can cover its own costs, much less support a sustainable business model.

And the challenge might be more focused than we have thought in the past. In fact, if new research by Facebook continues to follow the present model, it might be possible to connect up to 99 percent of human beings by extending the edge networks around cities just 39 miles (63 kilometers).

In other words, creating a new 39-km coverage "donut" around cities would allow internet access to reach 99 percent of humans.

New “pseudo satellite” platforms should play a role.

According to Stratistics MRC, the Global High-Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS) Market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.2 percent between 2017 and 2023. The HAPS market includes unmanned aerial vehicles, balloons or other airships. UAVs will lead the category, though.

HAPS are aircraft positioned above 20 km altitude, in the stratosphere, for very-long-duration flights counted in months and years, and essentially are substitutes for satellite coverage or other terrestrial infrastructure such as mobile networks.

The growth of HAPS is part of a larger trend, notably the replacement of bandwidth and spectrum scarcity by bandwidth and spectrum abundance as a fundamental condition in the communications business.

But here is why HAPS could be hugely significant: according to new studies by Facebook, 99 percent of the population (of 23 countries it has studied so far) live within 63 kilometers (39 miles) of the nearest city.

Facebook therefore believes that if it can “develop communication technologies that can bridge 63 km with sufficiently high data rates, we should be able to connect 99 percent of the population in these 23 countries.”

For such “edge of city” coverage, UAVs and other HAPS platforms might well be feasible as substitutes for satellite or terrestrial mobile coverage.

Up to this point, there has essentially been no way to create sustainable models, which is why subsidies (universal service support) have been essential. But much is changing in the area of communications platforms.

We are developing lower-cost connectivity solutions, releasing much more spectrum, enabling spectrum sharing and finding new ways to aggregate licensed and unlicensed assets to create much more capacity. The result is that the cost of connecting people and locations in very-rural areas should fall, in coming years.

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