Connectivity to the internet is now critical: it empowers communities and businesses to connect from any location, forever changing our economy, our relationships, and our lives. The digitalization of society is rapidly accelerating, but unfortunately, not everyone can participate equally. In Ethiopia, for example, we’re working with WebSprix to bring high-speed broadband access to its population of 115 million, were less than 270,000 currently have fixed broadband access.

In the United States of America, roughly 14.5 million people still reside in areas without access to the current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) benchmark of 25Mbps for high-speed broadband internet. Rural communities are disproportionately affected when broadband access is expected to be ubiquitous. At Cisco, we believe everyone deserves the opportunity to connect and participate in online communities and economies, and only when everyone is connected can we capture the full potential of an inclusive future for all.

Any digital divide will exacerbate income inequalities and limit opportunities to participate in the larger community. We must empower Communication Service Providers (CSP) to support rural areas with improved services and bridge the digital divide for these underserved areas.

Managing core transport networks is no easy task for CSPs. The infrastructure must be able to carry existing wired and wireless traffic while being aware of application and service performance requirements. It also needs to support new applications like distance learning, IoT-enabled smart farming, green (solar/wind) energy production and management, and telemedicine, each with its own Quality of Service (QoS) requirements. To be successful, CSPs need to simplify their operations and optimize Capital Expenditures (CapEx) to the point where serving these rural areas can be justified and makes economic sense.

Scalability through access router innovation

Recent updates to our Converged Software-Defined Networking (SDN) Transport architecture allow network architectures to scale without the associated costs of inefficient designs and complex operations. Innovations for the best-selling NCS 540 and NCS 560 access routers provide tools to support rural areas and offer CSPs the following benefits:

  • Configurations that support 80Gbps to 900Gbps of total bandwidth, with 25Gbps optimized solutions
  • A single, modular network operating system (IOS XR) from the access router to the core router that supports Open APIs can reduce operational complexity
  • Compact and powerful designs for deployment in space or power constrained locations and embedded safeguards for surge protection and capital investment protection
  • Temperature hardened and conformal coated configurations for deployments in adverse environmental conditions
  • Simplified network management and traffic control using Segment Routing and Ethernet Virtual Private Networking (EVPN) to enable network slicing and ensure service performance
  • Model-driven APIs and streaming telemetry to automate network operations and reduce time managing the network
  • Pay-As-You-Grow (PAYG) Flexible Consumption Model (FCM) to help CSPs better manage their CapEx/OpEx by only paying for needed bandwidth rather than idle capacity

Making rural investments easier to justify

The innovations built across the NCS 540 and NCS 560 product portfolio provide a foundation for a flexible and scalable network architecture that is ideally suited for rural communities. These routers are specifically designed to support the strict timing needs, ultra-low latency, and Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI), eCPRI, and Radio over Ethernet (RoE) options for mobile networks. This gives CSPs the flexibility to deploy Wi-Fi 6, public 5G, and/or private 5G service offerings in areas where last-mile access routes are more difficult to economically justify.

The NCS 540/560 helps support the convergence of service and network layers by supplying enhanced visibility and automation tools to improve network uptime and resiliency. For high availability, the NCS 560 operates as a fully redundant platform with support for 50ms In-Service Software Upgrade (ISSU). When serving rural communities where dispatching technicians is costly and time-consuming, CSPs must consider solutions that can be highly automated and minimize hands-on time. Automation tools like secure Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) can reduce operational costs by building consistency in both initial deployments and system updates, which reduces truck rolls to remediate human errors.

To further improve the economic justification in serving rural areas, the NCS 540/560 support 100G/200G/400G ZR/ZR+ optics, integral tools required for transmission over long distances without the need for additional optical equipment. For use cases where more than 10G is needed, the NCS 540/560 router configurations can support 25Gbps ports, and the NCS 540 also supports Bidirectional (BiDi) transceivers. Using different wavelengths for ingress and egress traffic in the same fiber strand, BiDi allows CSPs to optimize their existing and planned fiber investment, as well as the associated fiber ports and space.

Closing the digital divide

Closing the digital divide is a top agenda for many governments and organizations around the world. Cisco is excited to leverage its expertise and experience to help these organizations expand their networks to service unconnected and underserved areas. To read more about how our solutions can help your organization, take a look at our Rural Broadband Network Solutions page or to see some solutions in action, visit the Cisco Rural Broadband Innovation Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.

Close the digital divide with 

Cisco Rural Broadband Network Solutions



Dennis Pai

Senior Manager, Product Management

Mass-Scale Infrastructure Group