On a rainy summer day, Light Reading arrived at Cisco's campus at Research Triangle Park (RTP) to tour the networking vendor's new $20 million Rural Broadband Innovation Center. Launched in mid-June under the umbrella of Cisco's Country Digital Acceleration program, the center will focus on delivering high-speed Internet access to rural areas to lessen the digital divide.
Robin Olds and Marty Fierbaugh, principal architect, Cisco Americas Service Provider, US Segments and Canada, came up with the idea of the center and Cisco's rural broadband program. Pre-COVID, the federal government earmarked $38 billion to fund broadband expansion programs, plus an additional $67 billion after COVID-19 for a total of $105 billion. That total, and the funding that Cisco is tapping into for its Innovation Center, doesn't include subsidies such as the FCC Emergency Broadband Connections, earmarked at $3.5 billion, says Olds.
The goal of the Center is to provide service providers of any size access to testing the same level of technologies that support broadband access, says Olds, Business Development, Cisco Americas Service Provider, who joined in on the Light Reading podcast with Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst of ZK Research. "What we try to do is use our flexible consumption model to scale down the software cost for them, so it's the same hardware, solution and software, it's just been scaled back somewhat. For a Tier 4 provider, a smaller provider, they get to spend some time with us and understand some of the solutions they may not have thought of or looked at before."
Broadband service providers, telcos, cable companies, municipalities and more will have access to the center to test Cisco's equipment on their own networks. Customers can run tests utilizing 100G access rings, security services and test the convergence of IP and optical networks, says Olds.
The Innovation Center includes conference rooms and meeting areas, plus a rural broadband lab where operators can test network automation, edge computing applications, telemetry, network controllers and more on Cisco equipment – such as the Cisco 8000, NCS540L, NCS5500 and ASR9903 routers, and optical technologies from Cisco's recent acquisition of Acacia. Service providers can also test out FTTH and wireless applications as the lab is connected on 4G LTE and 100G optical access networks. 5G and 400G connections will be added to the lab in the future.
"The whole concept of more rural broadband is extremely important," says Kerravala. "It does look like we're moving into a world where we'll be working from home and educating from home for the foreseeable future. Lack of good quality broadband is holding back much of this country."
— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading