Rural coverage: How 1 billion people stand to gain from properly selected wireless solutions. By Prof. Simon Saunders, Real Wireless

Professor Simon Saunders on incremental remote coverage and the ‘Real Wireless – Wireless for Good’ initiative to maximise the social good from wireless.


rural 2In our industry it’s easy to get lost in the detail. Press releases and presentations talk about improved efficiencies, higher data rates or radio gains and sometimes it’s easy to forget the people who rely on the services we provide.Rural and remote mobile coverage was a big theme at the Cambridge Wireless Future of Wireless International Conference this year and it’s one that we really believe in. Phones & smartphones can have dramatic effects on GDP and on quality of life – a GSMA report by Deloitte found that just a 10 per cent rise from 2G to 3G penetration increases GDP per capita growth by 0.15 percentage points.

Delivering this means thinking differently and sometimes even taking inspiration from scenarios you’d assume would have little relevance.

At the Conference we showed how technology developed to provide capacity in busy urban areas can be used in rural settings to provide coverage at a fraction of the current cost.

In one rural case we found the cost of extending indoor 2Mbps coverage increased from £3,000 per household for 90% coverage, to £27,800 for 98% and accelerated beyond that. By using a combination of traditional macrocells and small cells, this can be cut dramatically to half the costs per premise at 99%, from £27,800 to £13,600. It would also allow the same investment to go further – from 73% to 95% of the population in one example.

Making this work means the industry working together and with sectors that some may have previously viewed as competitive – for example utilising broadband services from Ka-band satellites allows backhaul to the small cells at economic rates. For businesses in rural areas this can mean the difference between waiting years for an expensive fibre service or even the ability to work from home.

But it’s not just about providing data services to rural communities – wireless in remote areas can mean a lot more than what we’d normally refer to as ‘rural’ coverage. Remote coverage can be anything from the military to an offshore rig or even disaster recovery and providing the very first services to developing nations. While the scenarios are very different, the solutions are in fact very similar.

It’s these areas that can sometimes be forgotten – letting someone stream TV in Oxford Street is one thing, but providing comms to relief workers just hours after a natural disaster puts fresh perspective on the work we do. Extrapolating the cost savings highlighted above worldwide, suggests a billion people stands to gain from improved wireless service if appropriately cost-effective solutions are used.

Recognising the significant economic and social benefits that wireless coverage offers, we have announced a new initiative to help maximise the social good from wireless .

Unveiled at the Conference, the ‘Real Wireless – Wireless for Good’ initiative consists of both funding and pro bono assistance, with Télécoms Sans Frontières the first beneficiary.

We would welcome suggestions for suitable projects or from NGOs or charities that would like further discussion. More information, including the sources of the stats quoted above, can be found at



About The Author


Simon is a specialist in the technology of wireless communications, with a technical and commercial background derived from senior appointments in both industry and academia.

As co-founder and Director of Technology for independent wireless strategy advisory firm Real Wireless, he is responsible for overall technical capability and direction. He is also an adjunct professor at Trinity College Dublin.

He has acted as a consultant to companies including BAA, BBC, O2, Ofcom, BT, ntl, Mitsubishi and British Land and was CTO of Red-M and CEO of Cellular Design Services Ltd and has acted as an expert witness in legal proceedings in England and the US.

Simon has served on technical advisory boards of several companies, was Visiting Professor to the University of Surrey, member of the industrial advisory board at University College London, founding chairman of Small Cell Forum (formerly Femto Forum), which he chaired from 2007-12 and a member of the Ofcom Spectrum Advisory Board from 2007-14.


Get in touch with Simon:


Twitter: @real_wireless



Keep the conversation going on Twitter: @CambWireless

Want to find out more about Cambridge Wireless? Visit