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Wireless Communication and the Public Sector

We’ve all experienced it -- a dropped call at a crucial moment in a conversation with your boss, or a non-existent data connection as you’re trying to buy Justin Bieber concert tickets (for your daughter, of course). It happens.  And when it does it can be really frustrating. But have you noticed it happens a lot less than it did a few years ago?

Let’s take a look at some good news, some bad news and then some more good news!

 A couple of stats from the FCC’s 2013 annual report on the cellular market sheds light on the state of wireless communication.

  • 99.5% of the U.S. population has mobile wireless broadband coverage by at least 1 service provider.
  • 91% of U.S. road miles have mobile wireless broadband coverage by at least 1 service provider.

The Good News:

Pretty much everyone has wireless broadband coverage (considered to be 3G and above)  where they live, and as long as you are not straying too far from the highways and byways you are pretty much guaranteed a connection. If your experience differs it may be time to switch provider.

The Bad News:

Unfortunately if you are not one of the 99.5% covered by broadband wireless you’re getting (annoyingly pokey) Edge speeds, at best. At worst, you’re getting no signal at all. This is generally going to be true for the more remote and undulous regions of the country. Even when we look specifically at the rural parts of the country (which by the FCC definition is just 19% of the total population), we still hit an impressive 97.8% coverage. For those remaining 2.2% of the 19% that just can’t be reached by the radio waves beaming across our land, there is a bright side and it isn’t just the natural beauty that you are presumably faced with on a daily basis.

More Good News:

Things are improving. While providers do tend to focus on increasing data speeds for the population centers of the country, they are making incremental improvements in rural coverage. The federal government doesn’t believe this is happening fast enough and is stepping in with two programs that plan to have significant impact on those empty spots of missing connectivity.

The Connect America Fund (CAF) is designed to bring affordable broadband services to rural communities. The first phase of this program is funded with $300 million and the FCC has already determined 800 individual awards to fund the building of infrastructure which will bring broadband cellular coverage to an additional 83,500 rural road miles. 

Beyond Phase 1, the program will continue with an annual budget of up to $500 million which, according to the FCC, will be used to, “expand and sustain mobile voice and broadband services in communities in which service would be unavailable absent federal support.”

The next program makes CAF look like a couple of boy scouts with walkie-talkies:

FirstNet is a federal program aimed at establishing a public safety broadband network for use by first responders nationwide. The program has $7 billion in funding (yes billion). If you’re wondering how serious they are about total coverage, FirstNet chairman Samuel Ginn says this, “It must provide ubiquitous coverage, exceeding even that of the largest commercial networks, in order to meet the needs of the first responders who serve in rural, remote and tribal areas of our country.” And this, “It will be the only network to cover an entire nation of our size geographically, as opposed to coverage by population centers.” And this, too, “We expect to cover every square meter of land.”

This guy is serious about coverage, and what’s more, the technology that has been selected for FirstNet is LTE   (for those paying attention that is the same high speed technology being rolled out across the country by the major carriers). The best news is that although FirstNet is being built primarily for police, fire, and emergency medical, there is a strong suggestion that usage be extended to secondary users such as utility companies and public works departments.

So if your organization is struggling with connectivity, check your provider, things change and maybe your area is better served by a different carrier. Failing that, the federal government has plans to get wireless broadband coverage to you one way or another, through spacious skies and purple mountain majesties, from sea to shining sea.

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