Report Synopsis

Rural Communications Infrastructure - Options to improve rural connectivity and harness opportunities that this creates

Jock Graham

Network Congestion is the major issue that affects many rural users using Interim NBN satellite and 3G services in peak times (4pm-12pm) averaging download speeds less the 2mbps (RICS Survey, 2015)

In 2015 40% of all rural users currently use 3G/4G as their primary home internet and pay on average the highest monthly rate for service and receive the least amount of data allowance for this (RICS survey, 2015).

The key technologies that are now becoming available to provide high speed connectivity to rural communities are fixed wireless, satellite, 4G mobile coverage, and to more populated areas, fibre to the node or house.

The best option for rural users who have no access to fibre is fixed wireless (either NBN or private) as this technology can deliver the fastest speeds, high data allowance plans with the lowest latency and cheapest monthly cost.

Mobile 4G service offers a great service for mobile use when in a coverage area in terms of speed but is not recommended for home broadband due to the high data plan costs and the congestion that occurs in peak times.

NBN Satellite (Sky muster) is the next best option for rural users, being accessible from any rural location, offers good download and upload speeds, and plan pricing, but has limited data allowances and high latency compared to fixed wireless.

The use of private networks run either by businesses, communities or individuals are the key to linking rural communities to faster, low latency, high data allowance internet services.

There are two key technologies available to improve in-home mobile coverage; being a femtocell device (offered by Optus) and Cel-fi devices (available on any carrier network to boost signal).

Voice over Wi-Fi is the new smart phone protocol that allows standard mobile calls to be made over Wi-Fi when mobile service is not available or weak, which is a great solution to poor mobile coverage in rural dwellings

Internet of Things devices (IoT) and farm sensors can start to be implemented across the farm, monitoring water levels, soil moisture, livestock locations and other valued information at low cost. Other areas that could particularly benefit are the transfer of precision farming data in large volumes being uploaded and the introduction of automated machinery.

Key benefits for the rural community include bringing about a level playing field and access to various online business tools; health access benefits; education benefits; and greater ability to use the resource for social reasons.

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