For those whom that is impossible, be it cost-prohibitive, unavailable to their location, affected by an outage, or any other issue, how do they gain access to information? Take a look at the top six methods of broadband delivery...
The flow of information in the world is what keeps it running. For the average household, Internet access is possible through a wired broadband connection, which also offers the fastest and most reliable service of current delivery methods. But for those whom that is impossible, be it cost-prohibitive, unavailable to their location, affected by an outage, or any other issue, how do they gain access to information? While they may not be the commercial standard, there are several other methods of broadband delivery. Take a look at the top six below, plus a method for real-time news delivery with no Internet connection.
Wireless Connectivity (LTE)
Mobile Broadband Offers Wireless Access from Our Phones.
Plenty of us have another source of connection in our pockets. With average U.S. LTE speeds at almost 14 megabits per second, mobile broadband can be a perfectly serviceable alternative to traditional broadband. There are plenty of devices on the market to convert your cell signal into a Wi-Fi hotspot, and using a data-only plan, this can be a relatively low-cost, high-speed option. You may be subject to data caps and limited battery life with this method. Still, for the purposes of web browsing, social media, and email access, your cell will undoubtedly do the trick, as long as your location offers reliable LTE service.
Satellite delivery can be an excellent option for areas where connections such as cable or phone lines simply aren’t readily available. The signal is transmitted using three satellite dishes — one in space, one at the service provider’s hub, and one on your property. Traditionally, this method has been a last-resort service for rural areas. Satellite Internet has always had issues: high latency, limited broadband capacity, and signal disruptions due to weather or minor obstructions to your dish. However, in an effort to better reach these unserved or underserved areas, many companies are working to install low-altitude satellites, called Low Earth Orbits or LEOs, which could come to provide service to the entire planet.
Fiber-Optic Technology Offers Reliable High-Speed Service.
Fiber-optic technology has been gaining traction in the U.S. for some time now, touted as the fastest and most reliable connection available. The service functions using wires made of transparent glass fibers as small as the diameter of a human hair, which transport data in the form of light signals. Unlike the copper wiring used for cable connections, these wires are not easily disrupted by environmental conditions. While the speeds enable rapid download and the service is incredibly reliable, fiber to the home is not yet widely accessible as it requires new infrastructure for delivery. It’s also not clear fiber to the home is absolutely necessary to get blazing-fast broadband; if a broadband provider can get fiber close to a customer’s home, coaxial cable continues to be a great way to close the gap and support gigabit transmission rates.
Fixed Wireless (5G)
Fixed Wireless Connects Remote Areas Via Radio Waves.
Another wireless method delivers broadband to you via radio waves. Fixed wireless Internet uses an antenna on your property to communicate with nearby towers to send data onto a wired network. This comes with several difficulties. Often fixed wireless is more expensive than a purely wired connection, requires additional equipment and installation, and may encounter issues without line-of-sight on the tower. The pros, however, are that fixed wireless has no data cap and doesn’t suffer from the high latency issues of satellite. Deployment areas are limited, as it is most useful when building a wired network to individual homes isn’t cost-effective in rural and remote areas.
Broadband Over Powerline
Power Lines Provide Internet Access with Existing Infrastructure.
Broadband over power line (BPL) provides Internet access via ordinary power lines — so, in theory, any location not served by conventional delivery methods but connected to a power grid can be given access. BPL uses radio-spectrum frequencies transmitted over the same lines as electrical signals to transmit data at speeds equivalent to cable or DSL. Power line communication (PLC) is not entirely new; BPL can be traced back to technologies developed by AT&T as early as 1914, and electricity companies have been bundling radio frequency and electrical current on the same line for years to monitor their own power grids. These radio signals are received by a modem-like BPL device that plugs into an outlet and sends the signal to your device. Deployment attempts have so far been plagued with issues, however, with trials stymied by limited reach and low bandwidth.
Broadband Via Balloon Delivers Internet Connectivity to Remote Areas Worldwide.
Devices relaying signals while attached to balloons serve to extend connectivity to areas of the world without Internet access. The initiative began as a research project by Google X called Loon, which partners with global mobile network operators to expand their LTE service — reaching places that lack coverage, supplementing existing networks, and providing coverage following natural disasters. In 2018, Loon became a separate company that continues to provide an aerial wireless network to areas without conventional access. Their balloons, maneuvered by adjusting their altitude to a wind layer with the desired speed and direction, use patch antennas to transmit signals to ground stations or LTE users. In 2019, they announced their fleet had reached one million hours of flight, all while delivering Internet access to unserved and underserved areas.
The Fallback Project
The Fallback Project Serves as an Information Access Alternative.
When there is no possibility of an Internet connection, one project seeks to offer continued real-time access to information. Developed to aid those with restricted communications due to Internet shutdowns by authoritarian regimes, The Fallback Project provides an alternative web platform that transmits encrypted data from sources preselected by a user to their “Portal” device via satellite. The Portal offers a hotspot to transmit data to any Wi-Fi enabled device on which news can then be browsed with a text-based UI. Since no data is stored locally, the setup maintains anonymity for the user. The project seeks to maintain the normalcy of information access during the most extreme circumstances, using forecasting algorithms to predict Internet shutdowns and providing backup right when it’s needed.