The digital village pump concept is based around providing good broadband services to remote rural areas that otherwise wouldn't get them. A fiber connection to the central distribution point is then shared between wireline and wireless connections in the nearby area. Combined with rural femtocells, the approach provides a cost effective means to reach more remote customers.
An example of a UK Digitial Village Pump project originates when the residents of the nearly 60 homes and three businesses in Ashby de la Launde in Lincolnshire began building their own FTTH network to deliver speeds of up to 100Mb/s in the region. Using a tractor to plough a furrow through fields, they laid a fibre cable. A small brick building was constructed to house the distribution equipment, and fibre laid to the homes around the village.
This blog post includes some photos of the FTTH connections and how it was done.
A percentages game
Governments have had an agenda for some time to provide a minimum broadband service to everyone in the country, with an ideal target of ubiquitous provision of at least 2Mbit/s service. In Germany, this was one of the driving forces behind the LTE spectrum allocation and one of the first uses of the technology. Mains powered LTE receivers are used in home where copper wireline or cable isn't available, delivering rates commonly many times above that minimum.
In New Zealand, a Regional Broadband Initiative was announced in April where both major national networks will extend wireless and wireline services to many rural areas over the next six years.
Here in the UK, 100 MPs signed a parliamentary motion calling for wireless networks to be required to reach 98% population coverage, up from the 95% mandated by today's mobile spectrum licences.
A parliamentary committee quizzed the Secretary of State, Ed Vaizey, on the topic in July 2011.
The sale of excess spectrum (original cost £150M, sold for £450M = profit of £300M) by Everything Everywhere (the newly merged Orange/T-Mobile networks), resulted in a strong call by MPs for the company to reinvest the profits in reaching rural areas, as reported elsewhere.
Femtocells in rural villages
Vodafone had told the committee that it was trialling these cells for consumer use at the moment in various out-of-the-way villages which have wired connections but do not have good mobile phone coverage. This was also covered in one of Vodafone's presentations at Femtocell World Summit in June.
By deploying three small femtocells, they satisfied the needs of an entire village for both coverage and capacity. The advantages included the much lower cost of equipment, rapid installation on existing telegraph poles and avoiding concerns from the community about ugly masts/towers.
Standard cell tower approach isn't economic
At another conference, I heard how one network planning team had analysed their traffic statistics and identified a hotspot in a remote area. As they were about to commission building a new, fullsize macro tower, some further details emerged. The traffic appeared to originate from a relatively small part of the rural area, in a village. It seems that a handful of high bandwidth users were generating this extra demand, but they were located within a small village area.
Even without knowledge of the specific users and how much they pay per month, it seemed pretty obvious this was not commercially attractive.
Deployment of a few rural femtocells could address this capacity bottleneck and solve the problem – all at a fraction of the cost of a full new celltower.
A combined wireless and wired approach
I believe a combination of wired and wireless connectivity provides the ideal solution. The typically faster data rates and lower contention ratios of wired connections are complemented by the mobility that wireless provides.
A combination of a few femtocells placed at sensible locations around the village, connected through the Digital Village Pump would provide good coverage and capacity in these outlying regions. The same high capacity fiber backhaul would also quite feasibly support the higher datarates delivered using LTE.