The small business world of today doesn’t always mean lofts in old inner-city warehouses or factories, nor does it necessarily mean an office park in the ‘burbs. Many small- to mid-size businesses are now located in areas that are far from large cities. There are also more small businesses and home office workers cropping up in rural places.
Getting away from it all can have its advantages, but being easily connected and getting reasonable wireless service usually isn’t part of the deal. Fortunately, there are plenty of solutions available to keep you on the grid.
If you have mobile phone service but lack broadband, one solution is to use your mobile phone to provide the connection to a laptop computer or to get a receiver for a small network. While this still won’t compare to the speeds you’d likely get from cable or DSL, the speeds are typically better than what you’d experience through dial-up.
One of the more common mobile broadband solutions is Evolution-Data Optimized (EVDO) networks, which is offered by carriers such as Verizon and Sprint, while a competing format is High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), an enhanced 3G mobile protocol from T-Mobile and AT&T. The best option is to check with you carrier and see if there’s coverage in your particular rural area. As mobile phone carriers continue to compete, they’re doing a better job covering more of the country.
You Can’t Hear Me Now
The flip side of the mobile coverage is that many users still suffer from spotty signals and coverage as they travel outside of major metropolitan areas. WiMAX, coverage that literally covers the nation, is still a sci-fi fantasy, but there are plenty of alternatives. One of the more accepted is femtocells — think of these as personalized cell towers.
While you may not have heard of these, most carriers are now supporting some version of them. These are essentially plug-and-play wireless access points that connect standard mobile devices to a mobile network through broadband connections. More important, femtocells will work with existing 3G handsets and provide a seamless transition to cellular towers where service is handed off as you move out of range and into a public space. This service has the added benefit of reducing carrier loads, which have increased as consumers are sending and receiving more data via mobile smartphones. Femtocells are thus complementary with Wi-Fi and can be integrated with existing services and even with home networks.
Rural Broadband Still Being Debated
Femtocells are a great way to deliver mobile over broadband, but what if you can’t get broadband and your mobile phone coverage is spotty? The simplest solution would be to move. Current estimates from the Federal Communication Commission are that 96 percent of Americans have access to broadband Internet. The problem for the remaining 4 percent is that it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Various solutions are being debated, but these could take up to a decade or even longer. Unlike last year’s switch from analog TV to digital TV, it isn’t as easy as throwing a switch.
But before you pack up or reconsider a move to the country, there are solutions, like checking with local governments and businesses to see if the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program applies to your area. This government program is using Recovery Act funding to spur job creation and to stimulate long-term economic growth. And it’s helping with the deployment of broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas. It could still take a while to bring broadband to your area, but it’s good to know there’s strength in numbers.
For many smaller communities there’s also help from International Broadband Electric Communications, the nation’s leading provider of Broadband over Power Lines (BPL). As with this solution in a small office setting, this technology can deliver fast Internet connection via a power line. This technology is just being rolled out, but it could be one way to get connection via a line that’s also running to a house or office.
Likewise, check with your cable provider and phone provider and see what your neighbors are using. Cable TV companies have gotten in on the Internet and phone business, while phone companies are offering TV and cable services. Competition in the market has meant that many users have options.
Satellite broadband is a popular solution for rural dwellers. It can be more expensive than urban broadband and unfortunately slower, but it’s typically faster than dial-up. There are other issues, including the fact that satellite signals need a clear line of sight, meaning heavily wooded areas or residences in valleys can face problems.
Get Connected with Other Companies
Another option for those in the country is to partner with other businesses or users. This might mean that you won’t actually get broadband in your ranch or remote cabin, but again there’s always strength in numbers. Finding some other small businesses to partner with in town could make it easier to get wired from a phone or cable provider.
A co-op of business users could even defray any installation costs by providing other nearby shop owners and even close-by residents with a Wi-Fi hot spot. This, in turn, could prove to a provider the need for expanded service over time.