Good Broadband for Everyone

By Pat Gelsinger, CEO, VMware
Nov 10, 2020 12:00 PM ET

Since the pandemic hit and millions of us retreated to our homes, the situation has cast a bright spotlight on the problem of ubiquitous broadband. Access to the Internet is now more essential than owning a car for many of us, yet an estimated 40 million in the U.S. currently lack high-speed Internet. Large swaths of rural America – not connected. Underserved urban populations – not connected. We’ve been talking about this digital divide for years, and our lack of progress is both disheartening and deeply frustrating.

As we increase our reliance on the Internet across every dimension of our lives, the divide that already existed has widened into a large-scale digital chasm on a global basis, separating the haves from the have-nots in new and troubling ways. I think about all the students forced to pivot to distance learning – while living in households that lack reliable Internet access. This is the very segment of our society that we need to raise up through the equalizing power of education, and yet they’re falling further behind. The same dynamic applies in the job market. As many good-paying jobs shift permanently to ‘work from anywhere,’ young workers of color in particular are confronting a lack of broadband along with a basic lack of physical space to work productively.

Addressing this Issue, Once and For All
We must seize this moment and take collective action to close the broadband gap – once and for all. The answer lies in a combination of decisive leadership from government leaders in the public sector, tightly coupled with bold innovation in the private sector. As we work together to recover from the pandemic and chart a path back to growth, I firmly believe that 5G can be a game-changer in our quest to digitally connect every family and community in America.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several Members of Congress over the past few weeks about broadband access and U.S. leadership in this space. Members like House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS), and House Energy and Commerce Committee member Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) are all strong advocates in Washington for expanding access to affordable broadband through smart investments in infrastructure.

These Congressional leaders are looking at a variety of options to bring broadband access to all Americans, and we are encouraging them to think about open and interoperable networks as part of that solution. While wired broadband expansion is important in the near term – smart, forward-leaning policy for 5G and 6G can play into the natural U.S. strengths of software, silicon, and cloud.

Making 5G a Force for Affordable Access
The shift from 4G to 5G has the potential to change everything. How? By making wireless not only better than wired – but also more affordable and accessible in every city and for every rural citizen. The key is to ensure we build out 5G on an open and interoperable platform rooted in software – in stark contrast to traditional telco networks, which are closed and proprietary.

This open, software-defined approach is core to our strategy at VMware, as we work with leading players around the world to help them build out their 5G networks. In essence, we’re using the power of software to open up 5G innovation, so that a diverse set of players can compete and thrive in an open 5G ecosystem. Equally important: This approach is dramatically more cost-efficient for 5G operators, because it enables all of the underlying network resources – like cell towers for example – to be shared in a smart, flexible way.

As we transform core telco networks, the next frontier is to open up the Radio Access Network (or RAN) that connects all of our devices. Working with Dish, we are building the world’s first “Open RAN” that’s software-defined and cloud-native, bringing 5G speed and performance to the majority of the U.S. population. That, in turn, allows us to harness 5G as the foundation for affordable broadband connectivity in areas that are underserved today, including rural and urban communities across the U.S. that are currently disconnected.

This strategy flips the current perception of 5G on its head: Instead of being a “fast lane” for the privileged few, 5G becomes a ubiquitous and affordable replacement for WiFi – one that finally allows us to close the broadband gap.

Powering a Distributed Workforce
For businesses that are adapting to support a more flexible, distributed workforce, there’s another critical technology at play that complements 5G: software-defined wide-area networking, or SD-WAN. For home-bound remote employees, SD-WAN enables the same experience and robust security as if they were at their work location. This is proving to be a lifeline for many of our customers, particularly those in competitive sectors where quality of service and customer experience are key. SD-WAN is a key element of the always-on, always-connected networks of both today and tomorrow.

SD-WAN and 5G are made for each other. Together, they give remote workers the power to consume broadband for whatever task they choose – whether it’s schoolwork, virtual meetings or watching movies. This powerful combination also makes the net-neutrality debate moot, because it puts the individual consumer in full control over how they use broadband – instead of leaving that to the network or content provider. For enterprises, 5G allows us to use network slicing to create ‘swim lanes’ for different kinds of traffic, depending on the quality of service that’s needed.

An Idea Whose Time Has Come
We are permanently shifting to a more digitally connected world that shapes every aspect of how we learn, play, work, worship and live. Against that backdrop, reliable and affordable broadband for everyone is an idea whose time has definitely come. It’s imperative that we use the power of software innovation to bring high-speed Internet to every state, every city, and every household – regardless of your zip code.