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Rural Networks Need the Speed

Randy Sukow Mar 21, 2019

One of the main themes of NRTC CEO Tim Bryan’s speech at the NRTC Annual Meeting for electric cooperatives touched on the many parts of the nation that lack adequate throughput, as the engineers describe it. The more common term is “speed,” as measured on the internet as megabits per second (Mbps).  

“Speed is the lifeblood of any network. Speed is what makes a network valuable,” Bryan said at the meeting last week in Orlando, FL.

The FCC currently sets 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream as the definition of “broadband.” That is the rate where technicians estimate that home users can downstream multiple high-definition video signals over the web. In many urban or suburban areas today, the home speeds are 100 Mbps or more.

But in too many parts of rural America, the top downstream speed is a 2 Mbps over a DSL service or a below 10 Mbps on a wireless service. During his speech (see video below), Bryan demonstrated the difference those speeds make in daily life:  

  • Downloading a half-hour episode of “The Office” at 100 Mbps is almost instantaneous. Downloading the same show at 8 Mbps takes about 54 seconds. 8 Mbps is “probably greater than a lot of the DSL capacity that’s out there in rural America.”
  • A typical rural business might have more even data-intensive tasks to perform. For example, Apple recently released a new operating system --- macOS Sierra. An urban/suburban internet subscriber completes that download in about eight minutes at 100 Mbps. The same download at 2 Mbps takes about 10 hours.

As AMI and the number of various smart grid applications grow, speed has become just as important to rural electric cooperatives. Co-ops increasingly need to integrate fiber and other advanced networking technologies into the grid. If a cooperative, for example, wishes to update the firmware to 50,000 meters, many AMI solutions require weeks or months to complete the task. It takes eight hours with modern throughput over a system from NRTC’s AMI partner, Itron.

“I’ll give you another example,” Bryan said. “The Itron network is deployed over at Choptank [Electric Cooperative] and provides near real-time load profiling. You add that to a conservation voltage reduction solution, all of a sudden, you get five percent energy savings during peak periods.”

NRTC Broadband Development is dedicated to planning and building out rural networks with the speed to provide full service to rural homes, including streaming video. It can show NRTC members how to get throughput over technologies that a rural electrics or telcos can afford. At the same time, networks will provide capacity for the electric grid and the entire community for years to come.

NRTC has posted a video if you would like to view Tim Bryan’s entire speech and the rest of the activities at the NRTC Annual Meeting.

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