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Reaching beyond the wire: challenges facing wireless for the last mile

Aleksandr Yankelevich (Department of Media and Information, Quello Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Mitchell Shapiro (Department of Media and Information, Quello Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
William H. Dutton (Department of Media and Information, Quello Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)

Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance

ISSN: 2398-5038

Article publication date: 8 May 2017

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to provide a critical perspective on the major opportunities and challenges facing the future of wireless access to broadband internet services in the USA. In particular, it seeks to develop realistic expectations for new entrants and existing wireline broadband providers, hoping to diversify into wireless to extend the reach of broadband to previously underserved markets.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper synthesizes a series of empirical case studies of efforts to develop wireless projects across the USA. Cases were chosen to reflect variations in recent initiatives related to spectrum used, housing density, topography, types of services provided and the type of entity providing them. Findings are supplemented by a thorough review of applicable sections of the Code of Federal Regulations, Federal Communications Commission Orders and state and local regulations.

Findings

Although developments in wireless technology and regulation have permitted novel approaches for using wireless to extend the reach of broadband, myriad challenges must be addressed for successful expansion. These include limitations on throughput, infrastructure and equipment hurdles, regulatory uncertainty and relatively low revenue potential in underserved markets.

Practical implications

This study can serve as a guide to the nuances that wireless broadband providers must take into account when extending service in different settings. Because social and regulatory contexts are critical, the authors anchor their findings in a study of US cases and regulations. Nonetheless, the opportunities and challenges that are explored can be of relevance for practitioners considering wireless access in other countries where comparable situations may arise.

Originality/value

Existing scholarship generally focuses on the opportunities of wireless technologies for extending the reach and quality of broadband without methodically exploring potential hurdles. In this paper, the authors carefully consider both, paying attention to the social, financial, policy and technical challenges that must be addressed to successfully design and implement different wireless initiatives.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This paper is based on the Wireless Access for Last Mile Access (WILMA) project, supported by Merit Network, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and other members of the Quilt Network. The authors thank Merit and Quilt for their support of this project. A link to the project website can be found at: http://quello.msu.edu/research/wireless-innovation-for-last-mile-access/

Citation

Yankelevich, A., Shapiro, M. and Dutton, W.H. (2017), "Reaching beyond the wire: challenges facing wireless for the last mile", Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 210-224. https://doi.org/10.1108/DPRG-01-2017-0002

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited