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Baicells delivers LTE connectivity with Tohono O'odham Utility authority

Arizona-based tribal community based around small and remote villages teams up with network equipment vendor to deploy an LTE network to gain access to emergency services, telehealth and remote learning

Previously relying on basic Wi-Fi connectivity in limited locations with top Mbps speeds only in the single digits, the Tohono O’odham Nation in the US has been effectively frozen out of access to the network-based applications that are a facet of modern work and life.

To address this issue and get connected, the Tohono O’odham Utility Authority (TOUA) has announced a partnership with Baicells Technologies to bring access to advanced broadband connectivity and new opportunity for tribal residents.

The Tohono O’odham Nation is a federally recognised tribe that includes approximately 28,000 members occupying tribal lands in Southwestern Arizona. The nation is the second largest reservation in Arizona in both population and geographical size, with a land base of 2.8 million acres and 4,460 square miles – approximately the size of the state of Connecticut. The reservation boundary is approximately 30 miles west of Tucson, Arizona and extends south along the border with Mexico.

The nation is spread across a number of remote villages where bringing access to broadband has always been a major challenge. Given the remote desert landscape and the significant size of the area and the wide population distribution, wireless was a highly effective approach to get residents connected.

The TOUA has long recognised the need to overhaul and upgrade their infrastructure and so built out a network plan. In its mission to bring digital equity, it secured funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) ActReconnect Program, and NTIA. This funding led to the build out of an advanced LTE network across their tribal lands using wireless network infrastructure, CPE, and support from Baicells Technologies.

Baicells said its high-power LTE radios with extended range and favourable economics have successfully overcome these environmental challenges, delivering reliable broadband connectivity to large portions of the community.

It is the intention that the wireless network can eventually reach every household. Since the project’s inception in 2020, the tribe has successfully deployed a dual-band private 4G LTE network, comprising of approximately 50 base stations and looking to serve an estimated 3,000 homes across the Tohono O’odham nation. The private network utilises the 2.5 GHz spectrum in LTE Band 41 and continues to add capacity across the reservation using CBRS in Band 48.

The Baicells LTE radios are installed on towers, ensuring that residents are covered and can get connected. The current infrastructure, on air since 2021, delivers 4G LTE services, with plans to transition to 5G to accommodate the growing demand for capacity and performance.

With the new infrastructure, the Tohono O’odham nation can access applications such as video streaming and now has an unprecedented ability to view volumes of content. The performance upgrade to connectivity has made video chats a real option, bringing access to essential services and new opportunities to more residents across the community. In practice, this has since eliminated the need for long and slow commutes previously required to make routine visits and makes connecting with family on a regular basis much easier.

The tribe now has better access to emergency services, telehealth and remote learning, as well as opening up business opportunities. By using a private LTE network, the Tohono community also maintains sovereignty over its network infrastructure.

“Understanding our remote location and lack of service by any existing carriers, we knew it was up to us to address this issue of broadband access; we have experience and a track record of solving these types of challenges for our communities,” said Kristan Johnson, operations manager for the Tohono O’odham Utility Authority who planned, deployed and operate the network.

“A private network that we can manage on our own was a great fit since we are very accustomed to operating our own infrastructure. We already do this for other key utilities like electricity and water and, in today’s age, internet access is just another utility.”

Minchul Ho, CEO Americas at Baicells, added: “The primary objective of this initiative is to enhance communications and access to content and educational services, with the high-speed connectivity provided by this network. [Our] core mission is empowering unserved communities and bridging the digital divide with affordable solutions. The success of the partnership with the TOUA showcases the company's dedication and commitment to this mission.”

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