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Round Up – Industry Experts share their 2019 Telecom Predictions

From the emergence of fixed wireless and hybrid networks, to the predictive realities of 5G, telecom experts share their 2019 industry forecasts.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed in this article do not represent nor do they imply endorsement of my personal views or my employer’s views and opinions. They are unique and independent to the individual contributors listed as the statement’s source.

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From the roll out of new Artificial Intelligence (AI) integrations, to the highly anticipated future of 5G, in 2018 we saw the telecommunications industry generate some pretty innovative trends and thought-provoking headlines. With the new year just around the corner, I thought I’d turn to a variety of diverse industry experts to learn about their 2019 telecom predictions. Here is what they had to say:

There will be a lot of providers deploying 5G, but monetization will prove a challenge

Nathan Rader, Director of NFV Strategy, Canonical

There will be a race to see who can market 5G the quickest and who will have it as standard first. We’re already seeing tests from multiple providers across the world in isolated areas, and the speed and size of rollouts will only increase as providers look to gain the upper hand.

However, this race could be a costly one. Consumer need for 5G isn’t as great as it was for previous generations. 4G can handle most consumer use cases (such as streaming, gaming, browsing etc.) fairly comfortably with reasonable speed.

5G’s main benefit is providing increased capacity, not speed and latency, making it more of a technical development. Being the first 5G standard network will be a marketing coup, but may not come with the consumer kudos and demand it once did.

Further widespread adoption of Fixed Wireless

Phillip Deneef, Chief Strategy Officer, GeoLinks

We’ve seen fixed wireless technology evolve and improve drastically over the last decade, concurrently beginning to debunk “wireless anxiety”. During the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) CAF II Auction in 2018, we saw federal acceptance and adoption through the distribution of significant funding to WISPs, such as GeoLinks. This culminates to my prediction that in 2019 I believe we will see a drastic spike in both businesses and community anchors being connected via fixed wireless. While I do think fiber will still remain top of mind for many key stakeholders, I foresee anchors, rural health care facilities as a specific example, better understanding that EoFW is the most cost effective and time efficient way to get these critical care facilities the speeds they need. Taking guidance from both the FCC and overall industry adoption, on a state level I predict that those governing RFP fund distributions will also be more open to fixed wireless solutions. This will directly result in the United States making substantial strides in closing the digital divide.

Competition in Hosted VoIP market will heat up

Marc Enzor, VoIP Consultant & President, Geeks 2 You

Hosted VoIP phone systems are the hottest thing right now in telecom. Even the SMB and Medium size businesses are starting to become aware of what it is, and to gravitate towards it. In years past, we would spend most of our sales pitch educating customers as to what it is, how it works, and why they should use it. In recent months, customers already are aware and ready to purchase immediately. The sales cycle went from multiple meetings to single meetings now. It has become one of the hottest products we sell.

Going into 2019, it’ll only become even more “standard knowledge”, which means the competition in the hosted VoIP market will heat up. I predict several of the biggest names will start to buy the competition out and a true industry leader will emerge. This will have to happen as the top companies now will start to rely on their current growth models and will need to find ways to replace the lost growth as competition gets bigger.

Only edge computing / edge networking and AI will show true growth

Alan J Weissberger, ScD EE, IEEE Communications Society, techblog.comsoc.org

Only two areas in the telecom/networking space deserve the attention they are getting: 1] edge computing/edge networking and 2] Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Edge computing/edge networking is needed to off load the processing that takes place in cloud resident data center computers and also to reduce latency for critical real time control applications (especially for IoT).

AI and deep learning will be embedded into software-defined architectures in telco networks and the cloud to do analytics, predict failures, and move a lot of the human manual processes into automated operations. The long-term goal is to move from automated elements to closed loop automation and finally to autonomous control of networks.  I believe AI will be critically important to progress emerging telecom services and enabling new ones.  Examples include: 5G, Industrial IoT, autonomous vehicles, Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality, etc.  It will be also very useful for more mundane things, like keeping up with WAN and Internet bandwidth demands due to increased video streaming by cord cutters and pay TV customers (like this author) that increasingly stream sporting events (e.g. MLB TV, NBA League Pass, NHL Center Ice, boxing, etc).

All the other new technologies are hyped to the infinity power and headed for a train wreck.  That’s especially true of 5G, but also includes “Software Defined” networks (SDN and SD-WAN), Network Function Virtualization (NFV), and LPWANs for the Internet of Things (IoT).  All those suffer from the lack of inter-operability which is due to either the lack of standards, too many specs/standards (LPWANs) or proprietary implementations (e.g. SDN from AT&T, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc are not interoperable with each other. They each use different specs, with many being proprietary while others are based on open source software).  None of them will make much money for any company in the coming year.  Perhaps a few SD-WAN start-ups will be acquired and investors in those companies will profit, but that’s about it.

Enterprises cut the cord with LTE

Hansang Bae, CTO, Riverbed

For enterprises, 2019 isn’t a forecast of all doom and gloom. The year will also bring freedom from the persistent “last-mile” telecommunications problem. With the advancements in LTE, the technology will finally reach a point where the physical cables that connect end-users to their Internet Service Providers will no longer be a necessity — or a handcuff to a particular ISP.

The “last-mile” problem has long been the most critical and most costly component of an ISP’s network, as well a speed bottleneck. But now, on the heels of widespread adoption, LTE will allow enterprises to forego the last mile of physical cable for a reliable and robust connection.

Purpose-built Security Software will emerge

Don Boxley, Co-Founder and CEO, DH2i

Making smart products, IoT devices, is the new product differentiator — today, even ovens have IP addresses. Companies that have been investing in IoT initiatives understand that the IoT gateway layer is the key that unlocks a high return on those IoT investments. IoT gateways manage device connectivity, protocol translation, updating, management, predictive and streaming data analytics, and data flow between devices and the cloud. Improving the security of that high data flow with a Zero Trust security model will drive enterprises to replace VPNs with micro-perimeters. Micro-perimeters remove an IoT device’s network presence eliminating any potential attack surfaces created by using a VPN.

Likewise, many organizations are pursuing a hybrid strategy involving integrated on-premises systems and off-premises cloud/hosted resources. But traditional VPN software solutions are obsolete for the new IT reality of hybrid and multi-cloud. They weren’t designed for them. They’re complex to configure, and they give users a “slice of the network,” creating a lateral network attack surface. A new class of purpose-built security software will emerge to eliminate these issues and disrupt the cloud VPN market. This new security software will enable organizations to build lightweight dynamic micro-perimeters to secure application- and workload-centric connections between on-premises and cloud/hosted environments, with virtually no attack surface.

Hybrid Networks become more common

Louis Fox, CEO & President, CENIC

In terms of widespread internet connectivity, the low-hanging fruit has long been picked. To achieve a complete mesh across the state, and thereby to include all of our communities and lift all boats, private-sector technology companies will need to work more collaboratively with government and nonprofit community organizations to approach an underserved geographic region with a comprehensive strategy that stitches together fiber, fixed wireless, unlicensed spectrum, TV whitespace, and more. We can no longer deploy in a series of one-offs if we are ever to serve some of the hardest to reach places.

More Internet Networks deploying IPv6

John Curran, President and CEO, ARIN

The Internet has grown remarkably over the past few years and as a result we now have over four billion people online. The Internet will continue to grow at a remarkable pace to meet the requirements of broadband, mobile, and Internet-of-Things (IoT) growth, and this will only increase pressure on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to deploy the next version of the Internet Protocol (IP version 6, or IPv6) — just as many broadband and mobile providers have already done today. The good news is that the IPv6 transition happens in the “lower layers” of the Internet, so this behind-the-scenes upgrade to the Internet will continue to happen without any noticeable change for Internet users.

Public and Private Clouds will be much more accommodating of each other

Jai Menon, Chief Scientist and IBM Fellow, Cloudistics

[In 2019] only about 5 viable general-purpose public cloud vendors will survive. This is because successful public cloud vendors will need to spend a lot of money, and few can afford to spend as much as the Top 2 — AWS and Microsoft Azure. [Furthermore] Public and private clouds will be much more accommodating of each other. More and more of the services provided by a public cloud vendor, such as their AI services, will become accessible to apps running elsewhere, including on private clouds. At the same time, there will be more and more examples of private cloud capabilities extended to the public cloud — such as VMware Cloud on AWS. Finally, federated orchestration and management of workloads across private and public clouds, all from a single, easy to use, portal will be commonplace.

Political turbulence and possible decrease in network investment

John Windhausen, Executive Director, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition

2019 could be a turbulent year in the telecom/broadband space. If the FCC approves the proposed Sprint/T-Mobile merger, and if the court allows the AT&T-Time Warner merger, that could encourage even more consolidation in the marketplace. Of course, more consolidation among big players also opens up more opportunities for smaller, more nimble players to increase their market share. But there are increasing signals of an economic slow-down in 2019, which could mean belt-tightening and reduced investment by all players. The tariffs on Chinese-made equipment could mean increased prices for telecom gear, which could also lead to a pause in network investment. These trends may give a boost to the idea of a grand broadband infrastructure spending bill that both the President and Hill Democrats are trying to get in front of (assuming the government shutdown does not ruin the chances of bipartisan agreement forever.) Such legislation would only have a 30% chance of enactment but could be exciting to watch, as there are so many industry players that could benefit from government funding, especially in rural markets. I expect net neutrality to continue to percolate because the court is likely to remand the case to give the FCC another chance to justify its decision. Congress could and should step in, but there is no sign of compromise on the issue and likely will remain gridlocked. For anchor institutions, work will continue to get the E-rate and Rural Health Care programs running smoothly, but I do not anticipate major structural changes.

Do you agree or disagree with any of the above predictions? If so, feel free to visit the original article here, and leave a comment.

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California’s Research Network Connects Science and Community

Louis Fox, CENIC CEO

By Susan Rambo. CENIC — the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California — wants to connect the state of California into one giant wireless mesh network. With 20 million users, non-profit network operator CENIC (pronounced “scenic”) may be in a good position to build that network. But they aren’t doing it on their own. Far from it.

CENIC is part of a large community of public and private entities working to improve connectivity throughout California, an effort that has links to national and international projects. It all started with — and is grounded in — researchers. CENIC is governed by its charter members, California’s research institutions.

Since 1997, CENIC has provided networks for those researchers. Now with over 8,000 miles of optical fiber, the nonprofit operates the high-capacity network fabric for California research institutions, California Research and Education Network (CalREN). The fabric consists of broadband connections, upon which last-mile wireless can be added if needed. Eventually that last mile may include 5G wireless technologies.

CalREN offers 100 gigabit Ethernet (GbE), mostly via dark fiber, to researchers in California public and private research institutions (Stanford, California Institute of Technology, University of Southern California, University of California). State universities, community colleges, K–12 were added to the network in the early 2000s, followed by public libraries and cultural assets. CENIC aims for a minimum of 1 Gbps symmetrical regardless of fiber or wireless on any connection it provides

The high bandwidth is important to researchers who need to move data — lots of data.

“An awful lot of data is being collected by sensor nets and other kinds of data-intensive scientific tools. Historically [researchers] had to use sneakernet to get at the data,” CENIC’s President and CEO Louis Fox told RCR Wireless News. Now researchers have CalREN, which provides high-bandwidth connections.

“Where possible we’ve made fiber connections and in other cases we have worked with wireless providers to get fixed wireless and high-bandwidth fixed wireless to the sites,” said Fox. “We try and get as much bandwidth as possible.”  

CENIC typically asks for symmetrical bandwidth.

“Where possible a minimum of one gig symmetrical is our goal. It isn’t always possible in some of these sites because they’re rural and remote and we’ve worked in particular with GeoLinks — a very innovative private sector fixed wireless provider,” said Fox. 

The research platforms extend beyond California’s borders. The National Science Foundation recently funded Science DMZs — networks for Big Data transfers from supercomputers. The NSF is funding Pacific Research Platform (PRP), through UC San Diego and UC Berkeley.  Fox agrees that CENIC’s PRP is a testbed for other Science DMZs throughout the country.  

“We’re part of a conversation that involves other regions of the country that are beginning to roll out what was done here in California,” said Fox.  

CENIC also collaborates with the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), run from LBNL (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), which connects to 40 Department of Energy sites. On a larger scale, CalREN is part of Pacific Wave — an international collaboration to connect researchers around the Pacific Rim. CENIC’s CalREN networks also work with Internet2 (which runs the national backbone network) and Pacific Northwest Gigapop, nonprofits that both serve networks of researchers and educators. CENIC also supports California Telehealth Network and fire and safety initiatives and research throughout the state. 

CENIC also supports the efforts of California Cities Data-Sharing Project, and the Big Data, Big Cities Initiative, for connecting California cities.

Rural, farming communities 

Bringing more people access to the network, including rural communities, is a goal for CENIC, although not an official mandate. The nonprofit helps bring better internet access to rural and remote parts of California.

“There are these tremendous opportunities for being part of this new economy regardless of where you are. When we’re talking about the rising generation, the goal is to ensure that all Californians have access an opportunity,” said Fox, adding, ”we work with our carriers both wireless and terrestrial to do last mile connections to schools, to libraries and to community colleges.”

Proving the demand in rural areas starved of wireless Internet access, Fox and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s broadband analyst Robert Tse, who spoke with RCR Wireless News recently, report seeing people in rural areas outside public libraries in lawn chairs, on the library steps or in their cars after the libraries were closed, accessing the library’s wireless broadband connections.

“It’s such a critical resource for communities,” said Fox.

Connecting farmers and rural underserved populations may go hand in hand. CENIC is working with UC ANR (University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources division) to improve the abysmal connections at the nine UC ANR extension centers where field research is done on crops. A recent boost of the fiber capacity and a low-cost addition of a wireless network in a field at UC ANR’s Kearney research area near Fresno has Kearney researchers thinking they could use the connected field as demonstration for a nearby rural town to get it connected at low cost.

“We’ve moved into this whole arena of wireless extensions of the backbone network for three main areas,” said Fox. Connecting the community through libraries and schools is one. Second is helping researchers work on emergency systems such as fire and earthquake warnings. Third is precision agriculture. “That’s where UC ANR comes in,” he said.

For farmers, all the sensors and data need to be collected and processed.

“Those sensors need direct access to a network so that both researchers and farmers can have immediate access to the data and then subsequently to the analytic tools which make sense of that data,” said Fox.

Right now CENIC is mostly broadband, using fiber.

“Historically, we have focused on terrestrial infrastructure. We run a pretty significant broadband backbone with multiple hundred gigs connecting roughly 12,000 institutions in California,” said Fox. With the help of GeoLinks, a private company and like-minded partner, CENIC is adding wireless to the last mile of their fiber networks. “GeoLinks is a very innovative private sector fixed wireless provider,” said Fox.

Fox hesitates to embrace the hype around 5G.

“I don’t really know about the applicability of 5G for these at least initial precision agriculture applications. … As for technology, we only want the one that works best for the occasion. Right now, for us it’s been a big step to get into fixed wireless and again we don’t we run a fiber network. We work with either the researchers or with the private sector to connect them via fixed wireless. They connect to the nearest point of presence on our network.”

How it started 

“We wanted to smash distance and we wanted to smash time,” said Stuart Lynn, the CIO for the UC system in the 1990s, in a video (see below). “We wanted to break those barriers down to facilitate really effective research and educational collaboration.” 20 years ago, Lynn wanted to tie all the California university networks together in a high-quality, private network.

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) originally funded the networks for California universities Caltech, Stanford, University of Southern California, and the University of California in 1996-1997. NSF continued to fund a network through CSU that eventually because the CalREN NOC in 1999.  “What’s great about [CalREN] is you’re connected to a regional national and international fabric of research networks,” said Fox. “That allows access to data for scientific instruments and to scientific and agricultural collaborations across that fabric and it’s a dedicated fabric for research. So that means that your data doesn’t have to transit the commercial Internet. You’re able to use this regional, national, and global fabric.”

On-fire examples of network use 

CENIC recognizes accomplishments from the projects and systems researchers and government officials devised using the network.

Fire-related works using the CENIC network are HPWREN, an effort of UC San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

”They have really created a wireless mesh in San Diego County that is absolutely critical for those communities, particularly around wildland fire and especially to give first responders situational awareness of what’s going on with the fires,” said Fox.

Alert Tahoe is a similar effort in Northern California led by University of Nevada Reno, which puts sensors, high-def cameras and instruments around Lake Tahoe.

“They have dealt with literally hundreds of fires,” said Fox.

Project Wifire, run by U.C. San Diego, uses San Diego’s supercomputing center to collect data on what wildfires do, using ground telemetry, weather data and satellite data the system collects. The supercomputer produces predictive analytics about how newly started fires will spread, which can help with evacuation and firefighting.

“It is increasingly a critical tool because when you understand that for your first responders, for instance, the tool is surprisingly accurate,” said Fox.

“California stands as a test effort for a civic research platform and the testbed for a lot of the other community efforts that CENIC and others are involved in,” said Fox. “There’s an incredible collegial and collaborative spirit between and among groups focused on broadband access… there’s a real esprit — a desire to figure out how to solve these problems, which are not easy ones for a lot of these communities because they have small populations, they are dispersed and investments in infrastructure are pretty complex.”

Despite being the 6th largest economy of the world, in California “it’s not easy for a commercial entity to see a return on investment that requires pooling resources. Pooling subsidies are very community-specific kinds of solutions and projects for addressing these disparities across California,” said Fox. “There’s a sort of can do attitude here that I think sets the stage for what’s possible elsewhere in the U.S.  I’ve done this kind of work in a lot of other states and other countries but there is this indomitable spirit here. And collectively we will figure this out.”

“I encourage continued work [on] this idea of just making the entire state of California one gigantic wireless mesh,” said Vint Cerf, Internet pioneer, at CENIC’s conference in March.

This article originally appeared in the RCR Wireless News, July 10, 2018, and is re-posted with permission in the UC IT Blog.

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Personal Field Account from GeoLinks CTO, Ryan Hauf

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night

GeoLinks CTO Ryan Hauf

As we delve into winter, field operations as a service provider can be tough, even grueling in some cases. Long hours, the cold, and sporadic weather can often present challenges in maintaining a state-wide network. Nonetheless, GeoLinks takes great pride and goes above and beyond in upholding its service uptime commitment to each and every one of its clients.

The following account is told by GeoLinks Co-Founder and CTO, Ryan Hauf.

After receiving word that a rural school in Redding that we had connected through GeoLinks’ partner CENIC had lost connection, the GeoLinks team, lead by Co-Founder and CTO Ryan Hauf, immediately set off to restore connectivity.

Matt Murphy [GeoLinks’ Lead Infrastructure Technician] and I left immediately Friday afternoon [in my personal work truck]. We arrived in Redding, California about 1:30am. Just before we pulled into the hotel, I found that I couldn’t get the manual transmission into gear. Coasting to the side of the road we noticed there was a LOT of heat radiating from the transmission, and we came to the conclusion that it had leaked out all its oil. After allowing it to cool for a little while it went into gear again, so we removed the shifter and dumped in about a quart of 90w gear oil (we could not install it the conventional way since that requires a pump which we didn’t’ have.) We were able to drive the rest of the way to the hotel.

After coming all the way we weren’t about to give up, so the next morning we decided that since it was still derivable, we’d give the hill ascent a try. We drove gently to the base of the hill and all seemed okay. About 1/4 of the way up the hill, I slowed down for a washout that was about a foot deep, when I pressed the clutch, it fell to the floor… Uh oh, the problems were getting worse! Of course the engine immediately stalled because I wasn’t prepared for the clutch not to disengage. We were now sitting, stuck in gear, with our front wheels in a washout. We figured we could restart the engine in gear if wheels were free, so we used a high-lift jack to lift the front of the truck. I started it, and let the truck “start/drive/roll” off the jack, which Matt pulled out of the way so we didn’t immediately run it over. We were off again, stuck in first gear, with no clutch, no way to shift gears, and potentially no way to re-start the engine if it stalled, depending on the location.

GeoLiks - Ryan Hauf - Redding

We continued to drive this way and the conditions got worse, deeper snow, very deep washouts, including one that was about 2′ deep, which the whole left side of the truck dropped into for about 200 feet. There was mud and snow flying everywhere from the tires; I had the engine redlined so it wouldn’t stall.

Some parts where the snow was deep it took us 10 minutes just to go 50 feet or so. Tires spinning, we’d slowly chew our way through the snow enough to get traction to drive up the incline.

Eventually, about half-a-mile from the top of the hill, we were in snow about a foot deep and the left side of the truck had fallen into a rut. Eventually we ran up against a rock or something hiding under the snow and we were stuck. At this point I called Steven (the repo man) to bring a truck and trailer up because we would be needing a tow home (and possibly off the mountain.) From there, we hiked the rest of the way to the site and repaired it (Matt actually hiked it twice since he went back to the truck for a replacement radio.)

We swapped the antenna and radio at the site, cleared the ice off the solar panels, applied rain-x to them to hopefully help with future icing, and then we headed back down to leave. It was about 3pm by this point. Once we got back to the truck, we jacked up the front to get it out of the hole it was in. We used a heavy duty ratchet-strap to “winch” it forward just enough to relieve tension from the transmission enough to get the shifter out of first and into reverse. Once in reverse, we started it as it fell off the jack again, and backed down the hill to a point we could do a 3-point turn around, which for obvious reasons was very tricky (no clutch). [Nonetheless] we got turned around and headed down the hill.
geolinks_redding

We limped the truck over to the school because it was still not connected, even though the tower was fixed. We assumed it was an alignment issue. Arriving just after dark, before long a few people from town showed up asking what we were doing there at night, on the roof… They were great and very helpful. Also very surprised at the extent we were going to in order to get their Internet repaired. We troubleshot at the school for a couple hours and they offered to take us to a hotel in town so we wouldn’t have to lip the explorer there with no clutch. We were stuck at this point – we  eventually got dropped off at the hotel around 11pm.

Steven (repo man) arrived at the hotel later than expected. 4:30am, to be exact, due to a fuel leak he had to fix on his truck on the way up at a truck stop gas station in the middle of the night with Macgyver parts. We left the hotel around 8am, and went to South Forks to retrieve an un-needed radio to be used as a replacement radio for the one at the school, which we had determined was bad.

Upon arriving at the school it seemed to be one issue after another, but finally, we were out of there by about 3:30pm, with connectivity successfully restored, against all odds and challenges!  We arrived back in town at 4am.

GeoLinks - Headed Home
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How Community Anchor Institutions Can Help Close the Digital Divide

How Community Anchor Institutions Can Help Close the Digital Divide - GeoLinks

Community Anchor Institutions play a pivotal role in closing both the California and U.S. Digital Divide. So, what are both the government and key broadband stakeholders doing to ensure they get connected? Let’s explore.

While the United States has clearly and rapidly advanced technologically over the years, the fact remains that the country still remains in a digital divide. The digital divide, defined as the economic, educational, and social inequalities between those who have computers and online access and those who do not, has left a large portion of U.S. citizens, predominantly in rural America, at an extreme disadvantage.

One of the primary ways this gap can be resolved is to ensure adequate broadband Internet access is deployed to all communities – rural, urban, and suburban. From a business stand point, however, the majority of today’s major carriers find that building out networks to residents and businesses in rural areas with low population densities does not often provide a healthy Return on Investment (ROI). Therefore, if both homes and businesses can’t be immediately serviced, connected anchor institutions become a critical community resource. So, what is a community anchor institution?

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), community anchor institutions are, “schools, libraries, medical and healthcare providers, public safety entities, community colleges, and other institutions of higher education, and other community support organizations and agencies that provide outreach, access, equipment, and support services to facilitate greater use of broadband service by vulnerable populations, including low-income, the unemployed, and the aged.”

Fortunately, over the past few decades a variety of federal and state programs have formed aiming to provide the funding needed to connect community anchor institutions across the country.

E-Rate Program – 1996 Telecommunications Act

As part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Congress authorized the E-Rate program. This program specifically aims to connect public and non-profit K-12 schools, in addition to public and private libraries, to advanced telecommunication networks. Funding for the program is provided by the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC), which collects fees on national telecommunications services. USAC provides schools and libraries with up to 90% of funding for advanced telecommunications services.

E-Rate Program – 1996 Telecommunications Act - Geolinks

While the E-Rate program has undoubtedly made strides towards closing the digital divide nationally, we still have a long way to go. The Schools Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) has identified that 39% of rural Americans and 41% of tribal lands still lack basic broadband Internet services. SHLB has also identified that:

  • 42% of schools do not meet the minimum requirement set by the FCC for broadband services.
  • 41% of libraries have a broadband connection of 10Mbps or less, which is lower than the FCC’s recommended 100Mbps for libraries.
  • 88% of rural area healthcare providers have a broadband connection of less than 50Mbps.

The majority of these statistics stem from unconnected anchor institutions located in rural America. In addition to the efforts taking place federally, programs have also been developed at a state level. California, for example, has programs in place to aid in connecting community anchor institutions.

California Teleconnect Fund

The California Teleconnect Fund (CTF) was created by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in 1996 to reaffirm its commitment to universal broadband services with a focus on community anchor institutions. The program provides discounts on voice (25%) and broadband services (50%) for eligible organizations. These organizations include public schools, private schools, libraries, community based organizations, hospital and health clinics, California Community Colleges, and California Telehealth Network.

California Emerging Technology Fund

The California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) was created in 2005 to help “provide leadership statewide to close the digital divide by accelerating the deployment and adoption of broadband to unserved and underserved communities and populations.”

Established as a non-profit corporation pursuant to orders from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), CETF has access to a total of $60 million in funding to support deploying broadband access across California, particularly in underserved communities. The CPUC also directed that at least $5 million of these funds should be used for telemedicine projects.

Effective Use of Capital

With the presence of funds being allocated towards connecting community anchor institutions across the state of California, it is critical to evaluate how the capital can be used in the most effective and efficient manner. California has a diverse range of topologies with a variety of unique and differing challenges. Therefore, in order to successfully connect anchor institutions state-wide, it’s imperative to deploy hybrid networks.

A hybrid network utilizes a variety of technologies such as fiber, fixed wireless, and fixed 5G. While there are pros and cons to each delivery method, when used together, they have the ability to create a complete solution that can deliver multi-gigabit bandwidth to anchors in both urban, suburban andultra-rural communities.

GeoLinks – Bridging the Digital Divide

GeoLinks was founded in 2011 with the mission of helping close the U.S. digital divide. In the past few years, the Company has further focused its efforts on connecting underserved and unserved anchors to the Internet. Working closely with regional broadband consortiums, organizations like CETF, and non-profits such as CENIC, GeoLinks has connected dozens of California K-12 schools and libraries.

Currently, the telecom is completing network construction that promises to scale a rural hospital in Kern River Valley’s bandwidth from 12Mgps to 1Gbps and fully convert its 170 POTs lines into Hosted VoIP lines. The redundant one gigabit speeds plan to benefit the entire community as GeoLinks will offer its services to other local businesses in partnership with the larger Kern River Valley Broadband Project. This case study showcases just how important community anchor institutions become in closing the divide.

Ultimately, deploying broadband networks to anchor institutions is a cost-efficient and vitally important investment in our nation’s future. Several studies show that building high-capacity broadband to community anchor institutions has a multiplier effect that generates tremendous economic growth for the community and the nation. That being said, while connecting our anchors is imperative, this alone won’t close the digital divide.

To learn more, read our recent article published in Forbes about the “Five Crucial Steps Needed To Close The U.S. Digital Divide”.

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ALERTWildfire Collaborates With GeoLinks to Deploy Fire Detection and Prevention Systems Across California

ALERTWildfire Partners With GeoLinks to Deploy Fire Detection and Prevention Systems Across California

CAMARILLO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–ALERTWildfire, a consortium of three universities — The University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and the University of Oregon (UO) — announced today it has officially partnered with California-based Telecom, GeoLinks, to deploy Wildfire Detection, Prevention, and Situational Awareness Systems across the state of California. With ample endorsement from the United States Forest Service (USFS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), California’s new Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, and a multitude of utilities and state counties, the project demonstrates the future and next step in advanced firefighting and suppression.

Demand for the rapid system expansion was inspired by a new wildfire camera pan-tilt-zoom technology (PTZ), developed by Graham Kent, Director of the Nevada Seismological Lab at the University of Nevada, Reno, that became instrumental in both the response and containment of the 2017 Lilac Fires in San Diego County. GeoLinks plans to deploy 28 additional PTZs by year’s end.

“ALERTWildfire is excited to work with GeoLinks as their resilient communications network throughout California enables a rapid deployment of fire cameras in critical regions of the state,” said Kent. “No other service provider is able to scale to this urgent task, and we look forward to dozens of cameras to be installed month-after-month as we ready ourselves for December 2018 and fire season 2019.”

Collocated across GeoLinks’ vertical assets in greater LA-Metro, Orange County, Riverside County, and Ventura County, the data collected from the PTZ cameras will be backhauled over GeoLinks’ ClearFiber™ network to WIFIRE at the San Diego Supercomputer Center in UC San Diego. WIFIRE, an integrated system for wildfire analysis, analyzes data collected from these cameras to create real-time simulations, wildfire path predictions, and visualizations of wildfire behavior. Ultimately, the system will provide strategic advantages for early fire detection, situational awareness for first responders, fire mapping, predictive simulations, and evacuation planning.

UC San Diego has already identified the next wave of key sites for GeoLinks to connect post initial project completion. Skyler Ditchfield, co-founder and CEO of GeoLinks, notes that with the comprehensive coverage of fixed wireless broadband that will accompany the camera network, LTE-based data connectivity and the extension of all first responder handheld radio systems can be efficiently added to close all connectivity gaps.

“The fact remains that California is now faced with wildfires year-round,” stated Ditchfield. “Wildfire detection, prevention, and situational awareness systems provide a solution that could make an immediate, lasting, and radical impact on the spread of fires and associated costs, damages, and casualties. GeoLinks, ALERTWildfire, and a variety of other affiliates across the state, including CENIC, are actively pushing the state-wide expansion of these technologies. If we had assets installed prior to the Camp Fire’s ignition, for example, we could have saved countless lives. This is really the future and next step in advanced firefighting and suppression.”

For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact Lexie Smith at [email protected].

About ALERTWildfire

ALERTWildfire is a consortium of three universities — The University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and the University of Oregon (UO) — providing access to state-of-the-art Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) fire cameras and associated tools to help firefighters and first responders: (1) discover/locate/confirm fire ignition, (2) quickly scale fire resources up or down appropriately, (3) monitor fire behavior through containment, (4) during firestorms, help evacuations through enhanced situational awareness, and (5) ensure contained fires are monitored appropriately through their demise.

About GeoLinks

Headquartered in Southern California, GeoLinks is a leading telecommunications company and competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) public utility, nationally recognized for its innovative Internet and Digital Voice solutions. Ranked first in category on Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies in America in both 2017 and 2018, GeoLinks delivers Enterprise-Grade Internet, Digital Voice, SD-WAN, Cloud On-ramping, Layer 2 Transport, and both Public and Private Turnkey Network Construction expertly tailored for businesses and Anchor Institutions nationwide.

GeoLinks’ accelerated success is largely due to its flagship product, ClearFiber™, which offers dedicated business-class Internet with unlimited bandwidth, true network redundancy, and guaranteed speeds reaching up to 10 Gbps. Named “Most Disruptive Technology” in the 2018 Central Coast Innovation Awards, GeoLinks’ ClearFiber™ network is backed by a carrier-grade Service Level Agreement boasting 99.999% uptime and 24/7 in-house customer support. With an average installation period of 4 to 7 days, GeoLinks is proud to offer the most resilient and scalable fixed wireless network on the market.

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Wireless Smart Farming to Keep Frost Away From Citrus

UCSB SmartFarm sensor approximately 5 feet off the ground surrounded by citrus will help UC researchers know when to turn on windfans to protect plants from frost.

By Susan Rambo.

Computer science researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, are using the internet of things to prove that smart farming can be a farm implement as basic as the tractor and plough.

The husband and wife team of Chandra Krintz and Rich Wolski, both UCSB computer science professors, think data analytics can help tackle some of the tough challenges of modern agriculture. They want to apply the predictive mathematical leaps used in modern internet commerce to predict what people will buy, to agriculture. The pair created the UCSB SmartFarm program in response to what they see as the main issues of agriculture.

Krintz and Wolski cite U.S. Department of Agriculture and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization studies that say some scary stuff: increasingly more food is needed to feed the growing global population, and yet farm labor is in short supply or too expensive. Eighty percent of the fresh water and 30% of global energy is used to produce food, half of which we waste in spoilage. Farming also has some particularly tough foes: Pests and disease attack farms’ output and farm land is subsiding (sinking) — especially in California — because of groundwater overdraft. On top of all that, agriculture makes 22% of greenhouse gases.

The only way smart farming can make a dent on those issues is to attack specific problems. For Krintz and Wolski’s first test projects, they talked to the farmer — in this case, farm researchers — first before designing a system. Although almost every ag tech pitch begins with a summary of those issues, the UCSB computer scientists’ approach is to come up with scientifically vetted data about the usefulness of cloud and data analytics in farming.

The design parameters of behind UCSB SmartFarm’s Farm Cloud System is to make a system a farmer could love: it should be easy to use and work reliably, cheaply and privately — farmers don’t want their data accessible. The system needs to provide useful data to help increase yield, automate farm operations or save money (or all three), and the data must be available real time. The whole thing has to work without IT staff.

The self-managing system needs to work like an appliance, like your refrigerator, write Krintz and Wolski in a presentation about the project.

Krintz and Wolski are testing the system on nut trees at Fresno State and on citrus at the University of California’s Lindcove Research and Extension Center (LREC) near Visalia, Calif. The UCSB SmartFarm program has support from Google, Huawei, IBM Research, Microsoft Research, the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the California Energy Commission.

RCR Wireless News visited the LREC — a literal test bed for citrus and smart farming — and got the full tour of the UCSB’s Farm Cloud System.

Lindcove’s research mandate

The public is probably not aware that agricultural research centers, such as LREC (Lindcove), do the hard science that protects our food. In the case of Lindcove, hard science is the study of mostly citrus trees, and it means the grueling work of studying each tree.

Dr. Beth Grafton-Cardwell, research entomologist, an integrated pest management (IPM) specialist and Lindcove’s director remembers sorting fruit by hand.

“When I first started in 1990, if we harvested in January, we would stand in the field in our long underwear and they would pick fruit into a bin and we would have ring sizers that told us what size the fruit was. We would count the fruit and size the fruit and write it on a clip board on a piece of paper,” she said. “Now this machine can do this better.”

Standing near a huge packing line machine that dwarfed her, Grafton-Cardwell explained how the cameras and the extra sensors enable the machine to size and weigh the fruit, examine the outside of the fruit using three types of cameras and estimate the sugar levels inside. One piece of fruit goes through the machine at a time, for scientific purposes, which differs from how a normal packing house operates.

“If I am a researcher, each of my trees is a replication and a different situation, so I want to know everything there is to know about the fruit on that tree,” said Grafton-Cardwell. The cameras take about 30 photographs of each piece of fruit, rotating the fruit as they go. Every parameter from each piece of fruit is put into a spreadsheet: “We know the size, the shape, if it has scarring, the precise color,” said Grafton-Cardwell.

The growers paid for Lindcove’s packing line. “We can simulate anything you want to do on a commercial pack line,” said Grafton-Cardwell. Most packing houses have these machines but don’t use them the way researchers do. They use them for sorting fruit, not for collecting the precise data the researchers need.

“You have to train the machine to the colors and the blemishes. It can get overwhelming,” said Kurt Schmidt, Lindcove’s principal superintendent of agriculture. “We can slow everything down and gather an infinite amount of data.”

“The data sets are ginormous,” Grafton-Cardwell pointed out. Data and an interpretation of the data is the really the product that Lindcove produces.

Originally started in 1959 by University of California Riverside and San Joaquin Valley citrus growers, Lindcove helps growers try out treatments and crop varieties without experimenting on their own crops, which protects their orchards — and livelihood. “Researchers from around the state can come here and do experiments,” said Grafton-Cardwell. Lindcove focuses on creating new varietals and demonstrating gardens of hundreds of citrus — a demo garden that is repeated in several other locations, such as the desert, for comparison. The center is working on 30 research projects right now.

“Citrus grows quite easily statewide….there are 300,000 acres [planted] statewide. It’s all fresh market, [California growers] don’t do juice. If the growers produce for juice, they lose money,” said Grafton-Cardwell. Florida and Brazil are the juice producers.

“Their climate produces a better juice fruit,” said Schmidt.

Lindcove is one of nine research centers in the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) department. With soil and climate typical for the commercial citrus growing in the Central Valley of California, the Lindcove’s 175 idyllic acres may be tucked remotely against the Sierra foothills on the road to Sequoia National Park, but it’s on the forefront of fighting some pretty scary citrus pests.

The Huanglongbing (HLB) bacterium has the citrus industry in California in an increasing panic. This bacterium, spread by the Asian citrus psyllids, a small bug imported from Asia, has already made its way up through Mexico and is now in Southern California and spreading northward.

Huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening disease, is killing trees at alarming rates and there is no cure yet. “It has devastated Florida. Huanglongbing has knocked their acreage down by 50 percent,” said Grafton-Cardwell. “We are trying to get some proactive research going to prepare for the arrival of the disease in the commercial citrus. Right now it is just in residential backyards, but it is going to get to the commercial citrus in the near future,” said Grafton-Cardwell.

In California, it is particularly hard to control because of the prevalence of backyard citrus trees.

“Right now it is just in Southern California. We are up to about 650 trees in Southern California that tested positive,” said Grafton-Cardwell. All of those infected trees were in residential yards. Therein lies the problem: An estimated 60% of homeowners have a citrus tree in their yard. “That’s like 15 million citrus trees. How do you manage a disease when you’ve got 30 million commercial trees and 15 million residential trees? It is very difficult,” she said. “Homeowners don’t understand plant disease, they don’t understand how to manage the pest, they don’t understand the risk.”

Unrelated to HLB, but nonetheless an insurance policy for all citrus growers, is Lindcove’s Citrus Clonal Protection Program (CCPP) out of UCR. Lindcove preserves and archives original budwood of citrus varieties as part of CCPP. Large screenhouses — greenhouses with screens instead of glass — hold clean budwood, which nurseries, growers and even citrus enthusiasts can use to propagate citrus plants. The citrus buds are grafted to rootstock and grown into trees in the screenhouses, where they are protected from insects.

The screens on these structures are “rated for thrips” — so fine that thrips or psyllids can’t get through it. Recently when one of the screens had a breach, the CCPP program restarted all the trees in the screenhouse to make sure they were free of insects and disease. This is serious business.

First, the network

Lindcove has a new network capability now. “We are really excited,” said Dr. Grafton-Cardwell. “It has taken us ten years to get to the point where we have a network that can support all this, because we are out in the boonies.”

Lindcove now uses the fiber network from CENIC — the non-profit network operator for the California universities, colleges, schools and libraries — and fixed wireless company GeoLinks for last-mile wireless.

“We were getting our internet from a local provider here in Visalia with limited bandwidth for a lot of money,” said Schmidt. “So now we’ve got this big connection that has the potential to have a large bandwidth. We’re in pretty good shape.”

“ANR pushed really hard in the last couple years to develop the funding to do this for all the research and extension centers, all nine of them, because we were all created back in the 1950s, and most of us in the boonies, and none of us had decent network capability. For scientists in this day and age to do research, it is totally revolutionary,” said Grafton-Cardwell. “When I first came in 1990, we weren’t able to do any of this stuff. Computing was really primitive and now it is going to improve what we do.”

Smart farm at Lindcove

“I didn’t even know what the internet of things was before Rich Wolski explained it,” said Grafton-Cardwell, but now she can’t wait to get it.

The goal of the UCSB’s smart farm test at Lindcove is to improve the decision making for frost protection for citrus growers, which should help reduce costs and carbon footprint.

Schmidt pointed out the culprit: the big wind machines on citrus farms. These wind machines are needed because the typical inversion layer of warmer air holds cold air to the ground, which damages fruit. The wind machines circulate the air when frost is imminent. It costs a lot to run the wind machines, which run on propane. That’s not even counting the cost of having to run around to the fields in a truck, taking temperature readings at all hours to make a decision when to turn on the wind machines.

Krintz and Wolski’s team of students have installed low-cost, sturdy weather stations that can withstand the elements and accurately sense temperature and humidity at 5 feet and 30 feet from the ground. The stations are installed to be able to monitor 3 feet from the boundaries of where the wind machines cover. The poles also have surveillance cameras with infrared capability to allow more temperature measurement, beyond regular thermometers. A network station in the field moves the data to the office on-site. Drones could be used “on the fly” to monitor at different levels.

Measuring and estimating the evaporation and transpiration under the tree canopy and sending that data to the office means that someone like Kurt Schmidt won’t have to manually take the temperature every hour at all hours, to determine when to turn on the fans. Also, tapping into Schmidt’s knowledge of when the fans need to be turned on will help inform the system; Krintz and Wolski can write software to automate the fans operations. Having more detailed information in real time means saving fuel if one windfan on one end of a microclimate doesn’t need to be turned on, even though others may need to run.

This frost experiment is only the beginning.

“We have a laboratory here that has equipment in it that again, we could be connecting,” said Grafton-Cardwell. “One of the things I proposed to Chandra [Krintz] and Rich [Wolski], is we have all these data in separate units. The pack line generates data, we are collecting data from the field. That is going into files. The data aren’t connected in any shape or form.”

Grafton-Cardwell’s ultimate goal is to have a researcher go into a portal and view all the data associated with their research.

This article originally appeared in the RCR Wireless News, July 17, 2018, and is re-posted with permission in the UC IT Blog.

Photo of Susan RamboSusan Rambo covers 5G for RCR Wireless News.

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Fighting Fire with Data: Wildfire Detection, Prevention, & Situational Awareness Systems

Original Source

The unprecedented scale and scope of recent catastrophic wildfires show that larger swaths of California are at risk than previously understood. Smart investments in strategic technologies may serve to limit the loss of life and property damage. One promising — and proven — line of defense is connecting remote cameras and weather sensors across the state to a vast mesh of wireless and fiber-optic cable to relay data. The collected data is combined and analyzed to produce information that supports wildfire prevention, detection, and management.

This system — ALERTWildfire (University of Nevada, Reno, University of California, San Diego, and the University of Oregon) — is actively collaborating and partnering with local firefighters, GeoLinks, and CENIC. During the 2016-2017 fire seasons, such a system provided critical information for over 350 fires, and in 2018, has assisted in more than 150 fires so far.

Statewide expansion of this proven system would offer strategic advantages for early fire detection, situational awareness for first responders, fire mapping, predictive simulations, and evacuation planning. Rapid investment in this shovel-ready system would soon save lives, property, habitat, and infrastructure across California, and the state would see an almost immediate return on its investment. Additional partners that would benefit from this effort and so might be approached for financial support are the insurance industry, technology accelerators, and local community organizations.

How It Works

ALERTWildfire uses a network of cameras to continuously capture images of high-risk California landscape, while weather sensors on many of the same towers collect data on wind, humidity, fuel moisture, and other factors. The data is passed along via GeoLinks’s fixed wireless microwave technology and then handed off to CENIC’s high-capacity, optical-fiber network that runs throughout California. WIFIRE then analyses the data to create real-time simulations, wildfire path predictions, and visualizations of wildfire behavior and provides these visuals to firefighters to inform evacuation and containment planning. Data visualization is also supported by the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology’s (Calit2) Qualcomm Institute.

For example, early fire detection by ALERTWildfire provides immediate input to burn models that incorporate weather, fuels, and topography. Such a collaboration exists between ALERTWildfire and WIFIRE (San Diego Supercomputer Center) to provide first responders with burn models almost in real time. WIFIRE was launched in October 2013 with a grant from the National Science Foundation and has been advised by representatives from CAL FIRE, US Forest Services, US Bureau of Land Management, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Los Angeles Fire Department. WIFIRE’s “Firemap” software rapidly and accurately predicts and visualizes wildfire rates of spread. In late 2017, over 800,000 public users accessed information with the Firemap tool over 8 million times. Since grant funding ended this year, WIFIRE is operating under an annual subscription model for the fire departments of Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura Counties.

What Is Needed Now

While these efforts have prevented significant loss of life and property during recent California wildfires, this fire monitoring network is geographically limited in its current deployment. Now is the time to expand the use of this proven system across the state while systematically integrating it with local networks. Some possible next steps:

  • Include language allowing for data, communications, and broadband strategies to support wildfire data applications in future legislation;
  • Extend towers, cameras, and fixed wireless capacity throughout the state to provide first responders with powerful, contemporary tools;
  • Where wireless towers exist on state property, work with ALERTWildfire to support the installation of cameras and other equipment to expand coverage;
  • Explore opportunities to coordinate this system with FirstNet to augment the reach of this national first-responder network.

In light of the devastating effects of wildfires on California, scaling this work to create a vast data relay mesh across the state, in partnership with first responders, utility companies, and the State, would significantly protect Californians and lead the way for other states that are also fighting fires of unprecedented scale.

This article is available in PDF format for convenient dissemination.

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Wireless smart farming to keep frost away from citrus

Wireless smart farming to keep frost away from citrus

Computer scientists from UCSB team up with citrus researchers to make a smart farm system that reports temperatures and may eventually automate the use of wind machines that keep frost off citrus crops.

Computer science researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara are using the internet of things to prove that smart farming can be a farm implement as basic as the tractor and plough.

The husband and wife team of Chandra Krintz and Rich Wolski, both UCSB computer science professors, think data analytics can help tackle some of the tough challenges of modern agriculture. They want to apply the predictive mathematical leaps used in modern internet commerce to predict what people will buy, to agriculture. The pair created the UCSB SmartFarm program in response to what they see as the main issues of agriculture.

Krintz and Wolski cite U.S. Department of Agriculture and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization studies that say some scary stuff: increasingly more food is needed to feed the growing global population, and yet farm labor is in short supply or too expensive. Eighty percent of the fresh water and 30% of global energy is used to produce food, half of which we waste in spoilage. Farming also has some particularly tough foes: Pests and disease attack farms’ output and farm land is subsiding (sinking) — especially in California — because of groundwater overdraft. On top of all that, agriculture makes 22% of greenhouse gases.

The only way smart farming can make a dent on those issues is to attack specific problems. For Krintz and Wolski’s first test projects, they talked to the farmer — in this case, farm researchers — first before designing a system. Although almost every ag tech pitch begins with a summary of those issues, the UCSB computer scientists’ approach is to come up with scientifically vetted data about the usefulness of cloud and data analytics in farming.

The design parameters of behind UCSB SmartFarm’s Farm Cloud System is to make a system a farmer could love: it should be easy to use and work reliably, cheaply and privately — farmers don’t want their data accessible. The system needs to provide useful data to help increase yield, automate farm operations or save money (or all three), and the data must be available real time. The whole thing has to work without IT staff.

The self-managing system needs to work like an appliance, like your refrigerator, write Krintz and Wolski in a presentation about the project.

Krintz and Wolski are testing the system on nut trees at Fresno State and on citrus at the University of California’s Lindcove Research and Extension Center (LREC) near Visalia, Calif. The UCSB SmartFarm program has support from Google, Huawei, IBM Research, Microsoft Research, the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the California Energy Commission.

RCR Wireless News visited the LREC — a literal test bed for citrus and smart farming — and got the full tour of the UCSB’s Farm Cloud System.

Lindcove’s research mandate

The public is probably not aware that agricultural research centers, such as LREC (Lindcove), do the hard science that protects our food. In the case of Lindcove, hard science is the study of mostly citrus trees, and it means the grueling work of studying each tree.

Dr. Beth Grafton-Cardwell, research entomologist, an integrated pest management (IPM) specialist and Lindcove’s director remembers sorting fruit by hand.

“When I first started in 1990, if we harvested in January, we would stand in the field in our long underwear and they would pick fruit into a bin and we would have ring sizers that told us what size the fruit was. We would count the fruit and size the fruit and write it on a clip board on a piece of paper,” she said. “Now this machine can do this better.”

Standing near a huge packing line machine that dwarfed her, Grafton-Cardwell explained how the cameras and the extra sensors enable the machine to size and weigh the fruit, examine the outside of the fruit using three types of cameras and estimate the juice level inside. One tree goes through the machine at a time, for scientific purposes, which differs from how a normal packing house operates.

“If I am a researcher, each of my trees is a replication and a different situation, so I want to know everything there is to know about the fruit on that tree,” said Grafton-Cardwell. The cameras take about 30 photographs of each piece of fruit, rotating the fruit as they go. Every parameter from each piece of fruit is put into a spreadsheet: “We know the size, the shape, if it has scarring, the precise color,” said Grafton-Cardwell.

The growers paid for Lindcove’s packing line. “We can simulate anything you want to do on a commercial pack line,” said Grafton-Cardwell. All packing houses have these machines but don’t use them the way researchers do. They don’t need the precision of numbers that researchers need.

“You have to train the machine to the colors and the blemishes. It can get overwhelming,” said Kurt Schmidt, Lindcove’s principal superintendent of agriculture. “We can slow everything down and gather an infinite amount of data.”

“The data sets are ginormous,” Grafton-Cardwell pointed out. Data and an interpretation of the data is the really the product that Lindcove produces.

Dr. Beth Grafton-Cardwell, Lindcove’s director, shows off the packing line machinery at UC ANR’s Lindcove Research and Extension Center, near Visalia, California. The huge measures, weighs citrus, among other datasets. (Image: RCR Wireless News)

Originally started in 1959 by University of California Riverside and San Joaquin Valley citrus growers, Lindcove helps growers try out treatments and crop varieties without experimenting on their own crops, which protects their orchards — and livelihood. “Researchers from around the state can come here and do experiments,” said Grafton-Cardwell. Lindcove focuses on creating new varietals and demonstrating gardens of hundreds of citrus — a demo garden that is repeated in several other locations, such as the desert, for comparison. The center is working on 30 research projects right now.

“Citrus grows quite easily statewide….there are 300,000 acres [planted]statewide. It’s all fresh market, [California growers] don’t do juice. If the growers produce for juice, they lose money,” said Grafton-Cardwell. Florida and Brazil are the juice producers.

“Their climate doesn’t produce a good-tasting fruit, so they stick with juice,” said Schmidt.

Lindcove is one of nine research centers in the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) department. With soil and climate typical for the commercial citrus growing in the Central Valley of California, the Lindcove’s 175 idyllic acres may be tucked remotely against the Sierra foothills on the road to Sequoia National Park, but it’s on the forefront of fighting some pretty scary citrus pests.

The Huanglongbing (HLB) bacterium has the citrus industry in California in an increasing panic. This bacterium, spread by the Asian citrus psyllids, a small bug imported from Asia, is making its way up through Mexico into California starting with Southern California.

Huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening disease, is killing trees at alarming rates and there is no cure yet. “It has devastated Florida. Huanglongbing has knocked their acreage down by 50 percent,” said Grafton-Cardwell. “We are trying to get some proactive research going to prepare for the arrival of the disease in the commercial citrus. Right now it is just in residential backyards, but it is going to get to the commercial citrus in the near future,” said Grafton-Cardwell.

In California, it is particularly hard to control because of the prevalence of backyard citrus trees.

“Right now it is just in Southern California. We are up to about 650 trees in Southern California that tested positive,” said Grafton-Cardwell. All of those infected trees were in residential yards. Therein lies the problem: An estimated 60% of homeowners have a citrus tree in their yard. “That’s like 15 million citrus trees. How do you manage a disease when you’ve got 30 million commercial trees and 15 million residential trees? It is very difficult,” she said. “Homeowners don’t understand plant disease, they don’t understand how to manage the pest, they don’t understand the risk.”

Dr. Beth Grafton-Cardwell, research entomologist, an integrated pest management (IPM) specialist and Lindcove’s director, examines the screen on a screenhouse. The screen is rated to keep out bugs as small as thrips, to protect clonal varieties of citrus. (Image: RCR Wireless News, Susan Rambo)

A screenhouse at Lindcove, UC ANR’s research and extension center near Visalia, Calif., contains citrus clones for nurseries and growers to use. The program maintains clean clones of citrus varieties. (Image: RCR Wireless News, Susan Rambo)

Unrelated to HLB, but nonetheless an insurance policy for all citrus growers, is Lindcove’s Citrus Clonal Protection Program (CCPP) out of UCR. Lindcove preserves and archives original bud wood of citrus varieties as part of CCPP. Large screenhouses — greenhouses with screens instead of glass — hold clean bud wood, which nurseries, growers and even citrus enthusiasts can use to propagate citrus plants. The citrus buds are grafted to root stock and grown into trees in the screenhouses, where they are protected from insects.

The screens on these structures are “rated for thrips” — so fine that thrips or psyllids can’t get through it. Recently when one of the screens split along one seam, the researchers destroyed all the trees in the compromised screenhouse and disinfected it before repairing it. This is serious business.

First, the network

Lindcove has a new network capability now. “We are really excited,” said Dr. Grafton-Cardwell. “It has taken us ten years to get to the point where we have a network that can support all this, because we are out in the boonies.”

Lindcove now uses the fiber network from CENIC —  the non-profit network operator for the California universities, colleges, schools and libraries — and fixed wireless company GeoLinks for last-mile wireless.

“We were getting our internet from a local provider here in Visalia with limited bandwidth for a lot of money,” said Schmidt. “So now we’ve got this big connection that has the potential to have a large bandwidth. We’re in pretty good shape.”

“ANR pushed really hard in the last couple years to develop the funding to do this for all the research and extension centers, all nine of them, because we were all created back in the 1950s, and most of us in the boonies, and none of us had decent network capability. For scientists in this day and age to do research, it is totally revolutionary,” said Grafton-Cardwell. “When I first came in 1990, we weren’t able to do any of this stuff. Computing was really primitive and now it is going to improve what we do.”

Smart farm at Lindcove

“I didn’t even know what the internet of things was before Rich Wolski explained it,” said Grafton-Cardwell, but now she can’t wait to get it.

The goal of the UCSB’s smart farm test at Lindcove is to improve the decision making for frost protection for citrus growers, which should help reduce costs and carbon footprint.

Schmidt pointed out the culprit: the big windmills on citrus farms. These windmills are needed because the typical inversion layer of warmer air holds cold air to the ground, which damages fruit. The windmills circulate the air when frost is imminent. “It costs $30K a season to run these,” said Schmidt. That’s not even counting the cost of having to run around to the fields in a truck, taking temperature readings at all hours to make a decision when to turn on the windy gas guzzlers.

One windfan and its propane tank peeking out from among rows of citrus at UC ANR’s Lindcove July 9th, 2018, near Visalia, California. (Image: RCR Wireless News, Susan Rambo)

Krintz and Wolski’s team of students have installed low-cost, sturdy weather stations that can withstand the elements and accurately sense temperature and humidity at 5 feet and 30 feet from the ground. The stations are installed to be able to monitor 3 feet from the boundaries of where the windfans cover. The poles also have surveillance cameras with infrared capability to allow more temperature measurement, beyond regular thermometers. A network station in the field moves the data to the office on-site. Drones are also used “on the fly” to monitor at different levels.

Measuring and estimating the evaporation and transpiration under the tree canopy and sending that data to the office means that someone like Kurt Schmidt won’t have to manually take the temperature every hour at all hours, to determine when to turn on the fans. Also, tapping into Schmidt’s knowledge of when the fans need to be turned on will help inform the system; Krintz and Wolski can write software to automate the fans operations. Having more detailed information in real time means saving fuel if one windfan on one end of a microclimate doesn’t need to be turned on, even though others may need to run.

This frost experiment is only the beginning.

“We have a laboratory here that has equipment in it that again, we could be connecting,” said Grafton-Cardwell. “One of the things I proposed to Chandra [Krintz] and Rich [Wolski], is we have all these data in separate units. The pack line generates data, …we are collecting data from the field. That is going into files. The data aren’t connected in any shape or form.”

Grafton-Cardwell’s ultimate goal is to have a researcher go into a portal and view all the data associated with their research.

UCSB SmartFarm sensor approximately 5 feet off the ground surrounded by citrus will help UC ANR’s Lindcove researchers know when to turn on windfans to protect plants from frost. (Image: RCR Wireless News)

The pole holding sensors and cameras for UCSB’s SmartFarm program. (Image: RCR Wireless News)

UCSB’s smartfarm pole at UC ANR’s LREC.

Dr. Beth Grafton-Cardwell, research entomologist, an integrated pest management (IPM) specialist and Lindcove’s director (right); Kurt Schmidt, Lindcove’s principal superintendent of agriculture, (left) stand in Lindcove orchard in front of UCSB smartfarm experiment. (Image: RCR Wireless News, Susan Rambo)

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Internet for All in California: Overcoming Challenges and Creating Solutions

Internet for All in California: Overcoming Challenges and Creating Solutions

 · K-12LIBRARIESPRIVATE SECTOR
REGIONS: CALIFORNIA

Article written by CENIC

Across the globe, the digital divide is an issue of growing severity. California is no exception. Though it contains the networking world’s epicenter of innovation, large portions of California are left without adequate connectivity. “We have tremendous complexity in California around who does and doesn’t have access to broadband Internet,” said Louis Fox, president and CEO of CENIC. “Urban areas are generally well connected, but California is also a very rural state with sparsely populated areas distributed across a vast and complex geography.”

The 2017 California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) Annual Survey revealed that only 69% of California households have connectivity through computing devices, which are crucial in terms of finding and applying for jobs, as well as enrolling in classes and doing school work. Computer costs and technical know-how are barriers for many of these households. However lack of broadband infrastructure is also significant: 19% report that Internet service is not available where they live.

Californians without Internet access felt disadvantaged in many of the same areas; 38% felt hampered in their opportunity to gain career skills and take classes, while another 38% lamented their inability to get health and medical information.

To overcome this digital divide, leaders in the public and private sectors are banding together to bring reliable, affordable Internet access to underserved communities. At the CENIC annual conference in March, panelists identified the issues and obstacles that stand in the way of connectivity, and discussed the ways in which they are each working to close the digital divide and provide Internet for all in California.

“The challenge in California right now is not small,” said Sunne Wright McPeak, CEO of CETF, a nonprofit established with the express purpose of closing the digital divide. “Our geology makes trying to build anything incredibly complex. Then, add on top of that the diversity of our populations, the complexity of our politics, and the fact that we’re trying to do something that nobody in power is supporting.”

Lack of support may very well stem from lack of awareness. Kim Lewis, CENIC’s legislative advocate, is on a mission to educate the networking world about the plight of underserved communities, which often get left behind, leading to an even greater divide between the haves and have-nots. “The infrastructure in the ground is lacking, and in many areas it’s missing altogether,” said Lewis. “What are our community members going to do when they go home after working all day and their kids don’t have the access they need to do homework?”

In addition to political and geographical barriers, efforts to establish connectivity suffer from under-funding. “The problem is money,” said Rachelle Chong, principal of the Law Offices of Rachelle Chong in San Francisco and former FCC commissioner. “There is inadequate money being spent on broadband infrastructure in the rural and tribal, and sometimes, even suburban areas of California.”

California residents also face connectivity challenges from the private sector. Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic, a facilities-based backhaul and Internet access company, and Skyler Ditchfield, CEO of GeoLinks, a fixed-wireless Internet and telecom provider, are two innovators attempting to disrupt the Internet connectivity market. “Most American households have two choices for broadband, and tend to only have one or zero when it comes to fast access in the range of 50 to 100 megabits per second,” said Jasper. Ditchfield noted that some provided connectivity packages don’t actually supply adequate connectivity. “A cellular connection — 4G or 5G — to the home is not going to solve the problem of connectivity,” he said. “It’s better than nothing, but it’s not going to give our kids the capability of accessing the online learning resources they need.”

Fortunately, connectivity champions like these panelists are carving out new pathways for underserved communities. Thanks to legislative advocacy from people like McPeak, Chong, and Ditchfield, new initiatives are being considered and put in motion. “The [California Public Utilities Commission] has just put out a rule-making to give out a $20 million grant for digital literacy in California,” said Chong. “Essentially, if you’re a school, a public library, or a community-based organization, like a local government or nonprofit organization, you can apply for a grant from the CPUC to do two things: gain either digital literacy programs or public access to computers.” (Learn more about two grant opportunities for community-based organizations and apply with CETF between July 17 and to July 27.)

Each member of the panel spoke passionately about getting the rest of California connected to the digital world. “To me, the Internet is the great equalizer,” said Ditchfield. “It allows you, no matter where you are, to learn at your own pace, to learn what you want to learn, and to go out there and research and make something of yourself, whether that’s creating jobs, educating yourself, or taking care of your own medical issues. It should almost be a basic human right.”

All expressed their eagerness to continue their efforts within the CENIC community, hoping to draw on CENIC’s resources and plethora of connections. “CENIC has been a great partner,” said McPeak. “In fostering a culture of collaboration and digital inclusion, CENIC has been a pioneer. You have provided a pathway and been a trailblazer in collaboration.”

It is CENIC’s ongoing goal to bring quality, high-speed broadband service to all research and education communities. We at CENIC look forward to forming new relationships and fostering existing ones to establish Internet access for all in California. (#Net4AllNow)

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Grow Food, Grow Jobs: How Broadband Can Boost Farming in California’s Central Valley

Original Article

The Central Valley of California is an enormous economic force, producing over one-third of the nation’s vegetables, two-thirds of its fruit and nuts, and contributing billions of dollars annually to the California economy. Unfortunately, many of California’s farming communities still lack reliable broadband Internet access. This lack prevents farmers from using cutting-edge technologies and real-time data inputs that would improve agricultural production, and severely hampers educational opportunities that support farming and growth. A particularly acute example of this is in the western Central Valley, where less than half of the population has access to broadband, the median income is $20,289, and agriculture is a leading economic driver. Government, education, and industry leaders in the area are working to provide communities with the resources they need to grow food as well as jobs.

Robert Tse, the California Rural Broadband Development Coordinator for the USDA and longtime organizer for California’s agricultural community, imagines what farmers can accomplish with greater connectivity. While working with technology developers and farmers, Robert has seen first-hand the benefits technology can bring. “When moisture sensors are deployed in fields,” Tse said, “agricultural economists have found that farmers can realize a 10 to 20% decrease in water use as well as a significant increase in field output.” In a state plagued by drought, using less water to grow more food is a major improvement. Benefits like these would have an immediate impact on farming communities and overall production. But, without broadband connectivity, such tools remain out of reach for many farmers.

Expanding connectivity also enables the dissemination of real-time information, like weather predictions and experimental approaches to crop management. One of the main missions of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) is to provide farmers with up-to-date science and information. Gabe Youtsey, UC ANR’s chief innovation officer, emphasized how improved connectivity would further UC ANR’s mission: “To fulfill our education mission, research centers host local farmers at meetings and field days. With connectivity, those that live too far away to travel will be able to receive real-time video streams. Also, online learning can significantly expand the reach and impact of the 200 locally based cooperative extension advisors and specialists.” Several of UC ANR’s facilities now have broadband after being hooked up to the CalREN fiber backbone.

Vice Chancellor Linda Thomas of the West Hills Community College District is particularly in tune with the need for broadband access in conjunction with education. In her presentation at the 2018 CENIC annual conference, she cited the Brookings Institution’s summary of the impact poor connectivity has on education: “Rural communities are less likely to efficiently provide Internet access to students in public schools, as most rural schools lack access to high-speed fiber and pay more than twice as much for bandwidth. In a growing world of personalized online curricula, Internet-based research, and online testing, this severely restricts rural students from educational opportunities their urban counterparts may enjoy.” West Hills Community College offers academic degrees like agriculture science technology and irrigation engineering technology. These programs teach students to use cutting-edge farming technology and software, but operation of such tools requires fast, efficient broadband.

Yet extending access to these rural areas is often neglected, due to last-mile and middle-mile challenges. Laying fiber cable in the ground is not feasible in many places that remain disconnected. That’s where CEO Skyler Ditchfield and his company GeoLinks come in. GeoLinks is trailblazing the use of fixed wireless technologies to expand access with approaches that require less time and less infrastructure. “It can be difficult to meet the broadband needs of rural California with fiber connections alone,” said Ditchfield. “Fixed wireless broadband can meet the data needs, fiscal demands, and timeline to deploy these critical technologies across California.” GeoLinks uses solar and wind technologies to power carefully sited wireless towers that form a grid of connectivity across a community.

Now that wireless extension approaches have evolved enough to provide quality, reliable broadband to rural areas, the challenge is organizing community partners for widespread implementation. CENIC is partnering with organizations — as it has done with UC ANR, GeoLinks, and others — to develop plans for better connectivity, find funding to extend a wireless mesh into the unlinked reaches of the state, and ultimately help more farmers grow food and jobs. As Gabe Youtsey noted, “California communities must take control of their broadband future to ensure that everyone can participate in our digital economy by partnering to create new technologies and business models.”

Watch plenary panels and check out more content from the 2018 CENIC Annual Conference.

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