Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP communications have revolutionized business telephony, saving companies money and making telephone systems easier to scale up or down. VoIP systems also work well in businesses with a “bring your own device” or BYOD setup. But VoIP depends on broadband internet coverage, and there are places where broadband isn’t available, particularly in rugged or mountainous terrain.
However, new technologies are bringing broadband (and VoIP) to some of these areas, so if your business is not located where it can take advantage of VoIP telephony today, that doesn’t mean it will always be that way. Here are some ways VoIP is being brought into areas where it may have seemed an impossibility.
The “Mesh Potato” is a small box that uses unlicensed parts of the telecom spectrum to provide phone service to remote areas. It’s a weatherproof wireless access / VoIP connection point that requires little in the way of power, running on about three watts. The Mesh Potato can be powered by solar power, batteries, power over the Ethernet (PoE), or power over telephone lines (PoTL). At about $80 each, these devices can be mounted outdoors, allowing users to connect telephonically over WiFi. A network of these devices, combined with analog telephone adapters, can bring VoIP to areas that don’t even have regular telephone service, let alone WiFi.
White Spaces Networking
White spaces are parts of the frequency spectrum that are licensed to local broadcasters but which are not being used. In the U.S., when the switchover to digital television was made, large parts of the spectrum between 50 MHz and 700 MHz were freed up, increasing the amount of white space available. The White Spaces Coalition has advocated use of white spaces for provision of wireless broadband. White space devices can detect existing — but unused — frequencies and use them for internet connectivity, and they are expected to improve availability of broadband in rural areas. In the U.S., the first such network was rolled out in Wilmington, NC in January 2012. Wilmington was chosen not because it was rural, but because it was a leader in the digital television switchover and had earlier access to white space spectrum. The technology could eventually provide a $100 billion “ecosystem” of services in rural areas.
Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing
Orthogonal frequency division multiplexing, or OFDM, is another technique for providing broadband, and one of its greatest advantages is that it copes well with severe channel conditions — like interference — without the need for complicated filters. It is being tested in rural parts of Australia and uses parts of the UHF spectrum that are no longer used by Australian television.
The Future of VoIP in Remote Areas
As new methods of bringing broadband to rural areas and areas of rugged terrain gain a foothold, businesses that are currently unable to make use of VoIP technology may get that option in coming years. While some initiatives are being tried out in areas that aren’t underserved by broadband (like the white space initiative in Wilmington, NC), others, like the Mesh Potato and OFDM, are specifically designed to help remote and underserved regions get connected to broadband. Although some of these technologies are designed for use in developing countries, as the technologies mature, expect to see more options for businesses in the U.S. that don’t have the broadband options necessary to be able to reap the many benefits of VoIP.
Photo credit: ToGa Wanderings