What about mobile broadband and cell coverage?


What about mobile broadband and cell coverage? It’s question that has come up quite a bit for me lately. I don’t have an answer but I had a few moments in the last two weeks to realize that tackling it will help bridge a digital divide while ignoring it is going to widen it.

To start, I had an interesting email conversation from John Shepard about a week ago. He had been to a meeting of economical developers from Southwest Minnesota when one employer pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and said “this is no longer a luxury. It is essential for every one of my employees.” Someone at the meeting else noted that, “We talk a lot about broadband, but nobody under age XX is tethered to a cable anymore.” His experience complemented a conversation I had had in Owatonna talking to a group of manufacturers. We were talking about social media. None of them blogged and none of them tweeted but they all read texts from employees. Texts were easy to send and easy to receive; texting required no training nor more time on the computer. They all had their phones or handhelds on their hips.

Our conversations seemed to fall in line with Representative Juhnke’s comments to the Ultra High Speed Task Force and their recommendations (about minute 55 of video of the Nov. 6 Presentation and overview of final report of the Minnesota Ultra High Speed Broadband Task Force). He was pretty passionate about the need for mobile broadband coverage and even cell coverage throughout the state and asked about wireless access. The Task Force Chair (Rick King) addressed the question by talking about how they were technology neutral – and so long as wireless can maintain speed goals (4Gwill, 3G can sometimes) they support it, which I think makes sense from the perspective of the report – but Junke’s question was even more basic.

He spoke of the “two Minnesotas”; one where you can’t get cell coverage. I think it’s difficult for many of us to imagine living there. As he brought up – who is going to move a business to an area without full cell coverage? Juhnke promoted uniform deployment of all services across the state.

Ann Higgins, who is always timely, sent me an article that echoed Rick’s point and hit on the need for ubiquitous and fast coverage. The article focused on the progression towards 802.11n wireless. The  reasons driving that progress are important here too: “Because more powerful and bandwidth intensive applications that stream video are demanded from sources like the iTunes App Store and Android Marketplace, the importance of Wi-Fi is growing considerably.”

Finally, I noticed that the mobile broadband question was raised in the recent report by the US Broadband Coalition as well:

Mobile broadband access is growing in prevalence and popularity, both as a primary and as secondary for of Internet access. Recent research shows that African Americans and Hispanics are much more
active in using wireless devices to connect to the Internet and data services than others. While there is general consensus that some applications and services are better suited to mobile broadband connectivity and other are better suited fixed connections and larger devices, there is little study to access the merits of using mobile broadband devices and connections as a primary vehicle for digital inclusion populations.

Again I don’t have an answer – but I wanted to raise the question.