How AI and Digital Twins Enable Zero-Regret BEAD Investments

7 min read ·

May 9

Abhishek Sandhir

Sand Technologies

Managing Director, Telecommunications

It’s easy to overlook a stark reality: not everyone can access the digital world. Despite decades of technological advancements, a significant digital divide remains, leaving large segments of the population without access to vital resources and opportunities. Nearly half of the United States lacks fiber connectivity, mainly in rural regions. Reaching these areas poses significant challenges. Conventional network design strategies tailored for urban environments need an upgrade to plan networks for rural settings.

Achieving ubiquitous connectivity requires navigating issues from geographical landscapes and infrastructural disparities to cultural and economic barriers. In rural areas, rugged terrain and remote locations can hinder laying fiber and establishing reliable connectivity. Operators must also consider socioeconomic factors that keep underserved communities from leveraging the broadband connections so many other people take for granted. Cultural considerations further complicate the equation, as varying languages, customs and traditions require tailored approaches to ensure inclusivity and accessibility.

Recognizing the urgency of addressing these issues, the US government has launched the Broadband Equity and Access Development (BEAD) program to improve connectivity across America. To participate in BEAD, however, network owners must identify the most effective and cost-efficient methods to extend connectivity to underserved communities.

Network Planning Gets an Upgrade

The disparities in digital literacy and access highlight the importance of addressing connectivity challenges. Recognizing and accounting for these diversities is essential to developing practical, cost-efficient and sustainable connectivity solutions.

Enter AI and digital twins. This powerful duo is a beacon of hope in the US government’s quest to bridge the digital divide. AI (artificial intelligence) harnesses the power of algorithms and data analytics to derive insights. Digital twins, meanwhile, are virtual replicas of physical assets or processes that enable real-time simulations to promote informed decision-making and optimization.

AI and digital twins offer a dynamic approach to identifying and building connectivity solutions, delivering a zero-regret investment strategy.

Combined, AI and digital twins offer a dynamic approach to identifying and building connectivity solutions. By using an AI-infused digital twin, network owners gain unprecedented precision and insights, delivering a zero-regret investment strategy. In the context of rural connectivity, they offer the promise of overcoming barriers, bringing the benefits of the digital world to everyone.

How do AI and digital twins work together to bridge the digital divide? Imagine a situation where operators must determine the best locations to lay fiber to enhance connectivity in a particular community. By leveraging AI algorithms, operators can analyze massive data sets to identify patterns and predict demand, guiding decision-makers to prioritize areas with the greatest need and potential impact.

Digital twins then come into play by creating virtual models of the physical environment, allowing operators to simulate different deployment scenarios and assess feasibility with real-time data. By conducting virtual trials and optimizations, telcos can identify the most cost-effective strategies for network expansion, minimizing resource waste and maximizing the coverage and cost-effectiveness of fiber rollout plans.

Proven Network Planning Success

This application of AI with digital twins isn’t just a theoretical use case. The pairing has been tested in multiple situations outside the United States and proven successful.

Two such deployments, one in the developing world, enabled operators to map infrastructure gaps and optimize their network deployment. With digital twins they identified the most effective way to deliver broadband access, from 4G to 5G to satellite internet. Then, by layering analytics on top, operators could get hyper-granular with data and build business cases for each access strategy down to a street-by-street or even building-by-building level.

Equipment placement is critical to cost savings. This is particularly true when designing rural networks, which often require time-consuming manual surveys. With an ML and algorithm-based system, operators can use satellite images and LiDAR to develop network build strategies within days. Algorithms find the highest impact (improvement and speed) for the lowest price possible, empowering operators to quickly and confidently bring broadband access to underserved communities.

By harnessing the power of AI and digital twins, network operators can bring these outcomes faster than ever, helping to build a more inclusive and connected future for rural populations.

Breaking Down Barriers to Opportunity

The right connectivity investments have far-reaching implications. Improving broadband access for rural communities is about more than connectivity; it’s about productivity, empowerment and development.

Networks unlock new entrepreneurial, educational and healthcare opportunities so residents can prosper directly in their community. By harnessing the power of AI and digital twins, network operators can bring these outcomes faster than ever, helping to build a more inclusive and connected future for rural populations.

As telco companies plan their BEAD proposals and other network rollout projects, technology offers a transformative approach to address connectivity challenges. BEAD focuses on a plan’s community impact. With the convergence of AI and digital twins, connectivity leaders can identify the maximum impact of their network investments, improving the chance of their BEAD proposal being successful.


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