The Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation has approved the proposal we presented to the call ‘Proyectos Estratégicos Orientados a la Transición Ecológica y a la Transición Digital 2021’ and will fund the project completely. The project will start on December 1, 2022 and will end on November 30, 2024.
The social objective of the project is to provide tools that will improve the quality of life in rural areas and help to fix the population there. These tools will be human-centred designed: they will target the needs demanded by the potential users, they will be tested by them and tuned to their requirements.
The scientific-technical objective is to demonstrate the viability of using next-generation wireless technologies for the provision of services specifically designed for people who live, or who would consider living, in rural areas, by conducting a pilot.
Other partial objectives are:
- Test IoT applications in rural environments, which contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of many remote services.
- Devise technological solutions that support rural economic development
- Contribute to the improvement of digital culture in especially vulnerable groups such as the rural elderly and women.
There is a digital divide between the urban and rural populations. This divide is produced by the lack of access to wireless communications infrastructures in the rural areas.
Commercial wireless networks are implemented according to the spectrum bidding conditions and economic criteria. Spectrum bidding conditions usually require the deployment of the communication networks in medium and large towns, but not in small villages. Regarding the economic conditions, companies are reluctant to make the required heavy investments in infrastructures in rural areas, as the low or scattered population makes difficult obtaining enough revenues. This results on a scarce or non-existent deployment of commercial communication networks in rural areas. Few times, administrations subsidize private companies to provide services in rural areas, but these cases result in just fixed network access at limited spots, like schools or community centers, with less impact on general population.
In turn, the digital divide contributes to the depopulation of rural areas, thus closing a vicious circle that this proposal intends to break. The depopulation of rural areas has also implications for the natural environment, since giving up field chores has an impact, for example, in the increase in forest fires, … with the last consequence in the degradation of ecosystems.
This digital gap prevents the effective development of a multitude of services based on the Internet of Things (IoT) in rural areas. The improvement of the infrastructures for IoT will allow to provide a series of value-added services to people, such as the modernization of agriculture and livestock, monitoring and location of goods, animals and/or people, security, monitoring of the state infrastructure, telecare for the elderly, provision of tailor-made services (garbage collection, meter reading,…) with a direct impact on the quality of life in rural areas. Improving the life quality at rural areas will help to fix and attract population to the “emptied Spain”.
Moreover, there is not just a technological divide, but also a generational gap, since there is a higher percentage of elderly people in rural areas. And there may be also an additional gender gap, defined by the different possibilities of access to new technology as a function of the established gender roles in the different rural societies.
With this project, we propose to study the viability of alternative new generation and low-cost wireless technologies that allow breaking the circle by providing digital services to these areas. This disruptive project will clearly contribute to bridge the digital gap but will also contribute significantly to the Green transition.
The moment is now, as there is a stream pushing for the rural and green way of living, and there are also communication technologies that could support different services at an affordable cost. Low power wide-area (LPWA) communication technologies and particularly Long Range (LoRa) standard, is a potential candidate to support these services. Its main characteristics are:
- Free use, avoiding costs related to licenses and operator fees.
- Long range: up to 15 km between sensor nodes with data transfer rates ranging from 300 to 50,000 bits per second, ideal for deployment in remote areas.
- Low power: sensor nodes can consume very little power and their battery will last between 5 and 10 years. The use of renewable energy is perfectly feasible under these conditions
- Low cost: the investment required to deploy the infrastructure and acquire the final sensor node is low, which provides a huge advantage in its deployment, compared to commercial network technologies.
- Security: Thanks to its built-in end-to-end AES-128 data encryption, intercepting information is virtually impossible.
- Highly scalable: trillions of sensors that can connect to millions of nodes.
These communication technologies are ideal to face challenges that imply efficient consumption of resources, the use of renewable energies, the implantation in remote or remote areas and the digitization of the population.
Project TED2021-129224B-I00 funded by MCIN/AEI /10.13039/501100011033 and the European Union NextGenerationEU/ PRTR