Over the years, George Woodward, CEO of Trilogy Networks, and I have traveled across rural America visiting countless customers and partners. We’ve had a lot of windshield time together as we traveled along state highways and remote country roads crisscrossing lots of tiny towns. One such town is Muleshoe, TX.
Muleshoe is a small town in west Texas close to the New Mexico border. Besides its interesting name and some farming and dairy activities, there isn’t much interesting about the town itself. But Muleshoe, TX is representative of so many other small communities across rural America.
Those of us living in major metro areas and their suburbs take for granted the digital infrastructure we have easy access to, such as high-speed data connectivity, buffering-free HD movies, high-quality video conferencing, and cloud data centers supporting new businesses. But that isn’t the case in small towns like Muleshoe and thousands of other small cities and towns across rural America – towns in those areas we refer to as fly over country in our popular culture. Farms and businesses in those rural areas struggle to get reliable broadband coverage. Making a phone call while driving through some of those towns is almost impossible due to spotty cellular coverage. Starting a new technology business or deploying any technical solution is also a huge challenge. Given the lack of digital infrastructure, economic growth in rural America, particularly in this digital age, is stagnant.
The potential and the need for technology in rural areas are there, but companies haven’t made many investments to bring robust broadband and cellular coverage to these places. The reason that’s often quoted is that there just aren’t enough people in those areas to get a return on the investment. And the people that are there are spread too thinly across large areas. Companies haven’t been able to justify a business case to invest in such large-scale digital infrastructure.
Over the years, in an effort to encourage infrastructure investment in rural areas, federal and state governments have initiated a number of funding programs to offset the capital costs of building fiber networks and providing wireless coverage. Rural telecom companies have used this funding to build large parts of the infrastructure. But it hasn’t been enough.
We’re moving from an era of massive digital consumption by humans to massive data generation by machines and devices. The networks of today are designed to deliver data and content “down” to consumers, not the other way around. Tomorrow’s networks, carrying data from billions of devices being produced 24/7, will need to transport that data “up” to faraway places for processing in real time. Doing that efficiently will require significant improvements in processing time. If we were to place processing capability very close to the devices themselves, we could process vast amounts of data in real time and enable any number of hyper-interactive applications and solutions powered by machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence. We know that, if we build a network of distributed cloud computing infrastructure close to the edge of these networks, we can leapfrog rural America to this era of connected intelligence.
But how do you build such distributed cloud infrastructure in thousands of towns across rural America – an area that covers 97% of landmass of our country? How do we assemble a large basket of solutions that can utilize this infrastructure?
That’s the challenge we’re faced with today. We’re cognizant this is a big vision and is much too large for one company to do it by itself. That’s why we formed the Rural Cloud Initiative.
The RCI is coalition of telco partners and edge innovation partners working together to bring digital transformation solutions to rural America. We’re partnering with rural telecom companies and leveraging their physical presence and their infrastructure. We’re deploying cloud computing, storage, and network platforms deep in their networks. Our edge innovation partners are deploying solutions on these distributed cloud platforms. These solutions power wireless networks, and process massive streams of video and IoT data right in the towns where they’re generated. These distributed cloud platforms are all tied together on a single nationwide network fabric. This will enable seamless movement of applications and data across the network.
The steam engine, railroads, electricity, highways, airplanes, telecommunications, computers, mobile phones and the Internet were drivers of the last three industrial revolution. Pervasive, ultra-reliable data network connectivity and computing all around us will be the key drivers for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
So, if you’re asking what can a cloud in Muleshoe, TX make? Here’s my answer: With sensors and monitors, it can transform farms to become data-driven enterprises with real-time analytics. It can support drones to monitor crops for disease. It can bring healthcare to small towns with telemedicine. It can support students who take online classes. It can enable a new transportation system with autonomous vehicles. It can enable a whole new generation of digital businesses. All that and a lot more that we can't even yet imagine.