Baicells Technologies has partnered with the Tohono O’odham Utility Authority (TOUA) to bring access to advanced broadband connectivity and new opportunity for tribal residents
The reservation boundary is approximately 30 miles west of Tucson, Arizona and extends south along the border with Mexico, the Tohono O’odham Nation of roughly 28,000 members, is spread across a number of remote villages where bringing access to broadband has always been a major challenge. Previously relying on basic Wi-Fi connectivity, in limited locations and with top Mbps speeds only in the single digits, the TOUA long recognised the need to overhaul and upgrade their infrastructure and so built out their network plan. In their mission to bring digital equity they secured funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Reconnect Program, and NTIA. This funding led to the build out of an advanced LTE network across their tribal lands using wireless network infrastructure, CPE, and support from Baicells.
Since the project’s inception in 2020, the tribe has successfully deployed a dual-band private 4G LTE network, comprising of approximately 50 base stations and looking to serve an estimated 3,000 homes across the Tohono O’odham Nation. The private network utilises the 2.5 GHz spectrum in LTE Band 41 and continues to add capacity across the reservation using CBRS in Band 48.
Given the remote desert landscape and the significant size of the area, as the tribal lands are roughly the size of Connecticut, and the wide population distribution, wireless was a highly effective approach to get residents connected. A network that could still offer high performance and be rolled out quickly to help get residents online. Baicells high-power LTE radios with extended range and favourable economics have successfully overcome these environmental challenges, delivering reliable broadband connectivity to large portions of the community. It is the intention that the wireless network can eventually reach every household.
The Baicells LTE radios are installed on towers, ensuring that residents are covered and can get connected. The current infrastructure, on air since 2021, delivers 4G LTE services, with plans to transition to 5G to accommodate the growing demand for capacity and performance. Additional activities for new network functionality and use cases like serving their other utility infrastructure, and even offering mobility, are also in review.
“Understanding our remote location and lack of service by any existing carriers, we knew it was up to us to address this issue of broadband access; we have experience and a track record of solving these types of challenges for our communities. And a private network that we can manage on our own was a great fit since we are very accustomed to operating our own infrastructure. We already do this for other key utilities like electricity and water and in today’s age, Internet access is just another utility.” According to Kristan Johnson, the operations manager for the Tohono O’odham Utility Authority who planned, deployed, and operate the network.
With lightning-fast speeds now the norm, the Tohono O’odham Nation can utilise modern applications like video streaming and have an ability to view volumes of content like never before. The performance upgrade to connectivity has made video chats a real option now, bringing access to essential services and new opportunities to more residents across the community. In practice, this has since eliminated the need for long and slow commutes previously required to make routine visits and makes connecting with family on a regular basis much easier.
By leveraging a private LTE network, the Tohono community maintains sovereignty over its network infrastructure, offering a reliable and secure solution tailor-made and dedicated to their community.
“The primary objective of this initiative is to enhance communications and access to content and educational services, with the high-speed connectivity provided by this network,” said Minchul Ho, CEO Americas at Baicells. “Baicells core mission is empowering unserved communities and bridging the digital divide with affordable solutions. The success of the partnership with the TOUA showcases the company’s dedication and commitment to this mission.”
Baicells will be exhibiting and speaking at the upcoming NTTA event in Phoenix August 28-30 and the annual TribalNet Conference September 18-21 in San Diego. To learn more stop by their booth at one of these tribal events.