September 27, 2019

Facebook Connectivity hosts rural connectivity workshop

By: Julius Kusuma, Stewart Tansley, Erik Boch, Ted Woodward

Over half the world’s population — more than 3.8 billion people — lives in an area where internet connectivity is either nonexistent or unreliable. High-quality internet connectivity gives people a voice and creates opportunities to share knowledge that can strengthen both local communities and global economies. We see many challenges in providing connectivity specifically in rural regions, including lack of infrastructure, high development costs, and lack of appropriate technical solutions. These complex challenges require input from thought leaders in industry and academia.

To help address this, Facebook Connectivity invited leading academics and industry experts to a workshop focused on improving connectivity in rural areas. The workshop was specifically designed to showcase academic ideas and get industry input on our joint research and future collaborations. We invited attendees from a broad range of fields, including artificial intelligence, data science, economics, business, policy, telecommunications, civil engineering, and construction. We were pleased to have participants from the United States, Canada, India, Peru, Spain, and the United Kingdom. These diverse perspectives helped the group identify opportunities, risks, and potential solutions as broadly as possible.

The workshop

The two-day workshop started with a keynote from Facebook VP of Connectivity Dan Rabinovitsj, who outlined rural connectivity challenges and Facebook’s efforts to address them through its partnerships and technologies. Next, industry experts shared their views on rural connectivity, highlighting challenges in logistics, transportation, network planning, power, coverage, and spectrum, as well as suggestions for collaboration. In four panel presentations, industry experts explained the diversity of rural connectivity and how it can provide a fertile proving ground for new technologies.

We showcased collaborative projects with the Ohio State University, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, and the University of Michigan. These universities are working to improve the efficiency of planning and deploying microwave wireless backhaul links in rural areas where line-of-sight requirements often force network operators to deploy repeater sites in hard-to-reach locations.

The workshop also included presentations and panel discussions from mobile network operators, wireless internet service providers, equipment manufacturers, and software companies. Presentations included innovations in rural wireless solutions, including access networks, backhaul, and planning tools. The final part of the workshop included working subgroups to explore research opportunities in analytics, power and energy, and infrastructure.

The full agenda of the workshop included:

  • Fifteen guest presentations, including academic research report-backs and industry snapshots
  • Five guest panels, featuring domestic and international mobile network operators, equipment manufacturers, and technology developers
  • Two working breakout sessions of three subgroups — analytics, power and energy, and infrastructure — to discuss major challenges and opportunities in these key areas
  • A poster session showcasing innovations in infrastructure development, wireless networks, millimeter wave systems, channel modeling, signal surveying, and radio signal prediction

“Our workshops are not just show-and-tell — attendees were engaged for 12 hours on the first day, with discussions continuing throughout the evening and finishing on the second day,” says Julius Kusuma, Research Scientist in the Facebook Connectivity Lab.

Next steps

We believe that close collaboration between academia and industry experts, starting with ideation and conception and continuing through execution and implementation, enables the community to identify research opportunities that will have the greatest impact and relevance, with clear pathways to implementation. We look forward to continued collaboration with the academic community, whether through internships, faculty awards, research awards, visiting researchers or postdocs, or research collaborations. Additional opportunities to collaborate with connectivity industry partners exist through the Telecom Infra Project. To learn more about our recent publications and other announcements, visit our Connectivity research page.

Photos from the workshop