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Rural Cloud Initiative seeks to bring the edge to rural America

A new initiative aimed at bringing cloud-based edge computing capabilities to far-flung rural locations is gaining steam, having gathered more than three dozen network providers and application partners in support of an edge ecosystem to serve rural industrial and smart agriculture use cases.

The Rural Cloud Initiative, spearheaded by Trilogy Networks, announced this week that it has formalized partnerships with 26 network providers and 11 “edge innovation partners” and put together its first “farm of the future”. Trilogy Networks has been in business for five years and has built a nationwide private network; it works with rural network providers to move their traffic around the country. According to Trilogy co-founder and CTO Venky Swaminathan, “The goal is really around how we can bring the next generation of applications to this marketplace” through partnering with network operators and other rural technology providers who can provide physical locations for edge computing resources, and bringing them together with other tech and application providers to provide tailored solutions for the rural market. 

Participants in RCI include network providers Inland Cellular of Idaho, Pine Belt Communications of Alabama, United Wireless of Kansas and more; its edge innovation partners include Intel, edge company Vapor, open RAN specialist Altiostar and satellite operator Intelsat, among others.

Much of the industrial internet of things will play out in a rural context, said Nancy Hemswell, COO of Trilogy: in precision agriculture, oil and gas fields, long-haul transportation and even telemedicine.

“Rural territory really jumps out as a ‘fertile ground’ for this sort of transformation,” she said, both because of the applications for the industrial internet of things and to increase farm productivity over the coming decades — as well as to address the more immediate issue of the federal government’s plan to spend $1 billion to support the removal of Chinese gear in rural mobile networks.

“Now you’re not looking at the subscription of data and how much traffic you’re putting on a cell phone or even on Netflix, but more, how do I connect these robots, these sensors, these drones?” Hemswell continued. “And does that become a dollar a device, $10 a device, two cents a device? We don’t know. The whole evolution, or revolution, is taking place in the market today.” The connection of millions or even billions of devices potentially removes the limited population as a constraint on rural network investment and return, even if the connection cost per device is a fraction of what it would be for a smartphone.

“The rural market is rife with IoT devices critical to industries like agriculture and the digital oilfield,” said George Woodward, CEO and co-founder of Trilogy Networks. “Supporting this transformation will require the deployment of connected devices at the network edge that will enable new business models for both network operators and rural industries. While others are talking about it — Trilogy and our RCI partners are
proving that both the technology and business value of edge solutions is provable, scalable and
repeatable across a number of use cases and vertical applications.”

At Hurst Greenery, a multi-location garden center in Missouri, with 16 greenhouses and 600 acres of corn and/or soy beans, Trilogy is deploying distributed cloud assets with real-time data processing capabilities to showcase the locations as a “farm of the future”. Trilogy said that its ConEx edge delivery platform will be deployed across four locations, including sites operated by RCI partners IAMO Communications, Chat Mobility and Farmers Mutual Telephone Company. The site will include a private LTE network using CBRS spectrum and Intel tech, with Trilogy and fellow RCI partners Pluribus Networks, ClearBlade and Lanner heading up the deployment. Applications at work will include real-time data control and decision-making of connected devices via crop tracking, inventory management, and connected-device-based temperature and humidity monitoring. The deployment is aimed at increasing overall efficiency and yield through reducing energy costs, spoilage, insurance and human resource costs, the RCI partners said.

RCI is also highlighting its potential with a “digital transformation showcase” at the New Continuum West
Chicago NAP data center, with a setup that supports internet offload, rich media streaming, AI-based network capacity planning and AI-based video analytics. That installation is supported by RCI partner AlefEdge’s Software-Defined Mobile Edge (SD-ME) platform, deployed onTrilogy’s ConEx edge delivery platform with private network access, along with direct Internet peering from United IX. Trilogy said it worked with Intel to develop the solution, which it described as having a “5G like experience” that is a “vast improvement in video performance over traditional networks.”

Also this week, RCI established ACRES, or the Advisory Council for Rural Edge Solutions, with members who have experience at a national level both in rural network operations or in edge technologies and advocacy for one or both.

“Within rural markets, there is clearly demand for services running at the edge and the adoption of
advanced LTE and 5G will only drive that demand further,” said Caroline Chan, VP and GM of Intel’s Network Business Incubator Division and a member of the RCI’s ACRES leadership council. “RCI is bringing together organizations that are able to contribute at every stage of the edge computing value chain. This provides meaningful opportunities for leading technology providers to help spur digital transformation across rural America through a viable, scalable and repeatable model that addresses this unique market.”

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