Connecting the unconnected: bridging the digital divide

Wireless infrastructure

The telecommunications industry is rapidly expanding driving growth in various other sectors.

Digital connectivity is increasingly seen as a basic need for people everywhere, offering socio-economic benefits by providing access to digital services beyond personal communication.  These services span sectors, such as healthcare, remote working, financial services,  smart communities, e-governance, e-commerce,  and education. The global demand for reliable, high-speed broadband offering both a high quality of service and a high-quality user experience is rising across the globe for consumers and business users.

At the same time, the way that telecoms infrastructure and connectivity solutions are being viewed and assessed is changing. There has been a noticeable shift towards understanding sustainability in telecoms networks across three major categories – economic (network CAPEX and OPEX), environmental and societal. Metrics for these categories are, in turn, being linked to UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These new approaches to assessing the value and impact of proposed innovations in connectivity infrastructure highlight the importance and value of making progress on closing the digital divide. As an illustration, connecting the unconnected is being directly linked to impacting 10 of the 17 UN SDGs (as listed in the figure below).

UN SDGs impacted by connecting the unconnected

While the rise of digital connectivity has benefited much of the population, more than 40% of the world’s population remains unconnected to the internet [1]. This has resulted in a digital gap between individuals connected to the internet and those who are not. The digital divide is notably prevalent in rural and remote areas, particularly in developing nations. These locations are profoundly affected by a lack of digital connectivity, leading to a lack of growth in terms of economic, social and employment. There are substantial benefits for communities and businesses located in these regions if investment in broadband services is made, however, the challenge lies in deploying an affordable solution that still meets the end-user requirements.

Building telecommunications infrastructure in remote, rural locations faces numerous challenges, including, high deployment costs, limited user volumes and difficult deployment scenarios, market entry restrictions, spectrum constraints,  reliability, power availability, maintenance logistics, affordability, regulations, and end-user digital literacy ​[3]​. As a result, stakeholders (governments, service providers, end users, equipment manufacturers and regulators) are looking for future-proof, sustainable alternatives.

The telecommunications industry is exploring a wide range of technology and commercial constructs to find cost-efficient solutions that bridge the digital divide and improve the societal and economic sustainability of rural connectivity. The range of options includes network sharing, neutral host networks, 5G network slicing, LEO satellites, high-altitude platforms (HAPS), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), hot air balloons and Wi-Fi. Solutions will typically involve several of these options linked optimally to meet financial, reach, throughput and practical deployment goals.


Figure 1 – Technologies to bridge the digital divide 

Collaborations to help navigate the landscape of connectivity solutions and best practices from different parts of the world are essential, such as the UK-India Future Networks Initiative, which I am delighted to have been involved with. However, it is clear that to connect the unconnected requires tailored solutions. Each region has its unique challenges and therefore, while we can take inspiration from what has worked well elsewhere, we need to assess the best strategy and solution for each location. For example, 5G networks and network slicing along with spectrum and infrastructure sharing were explored and tested in areas of rural Scotland to bridge the digital divide​ [5]​. The main obstacle with this approach was the policies required between the infrastructure operator and the service provider to provide assured quality of service (QoS) and network security. When a similar solution was investigated for the Indian context, the different regulatory environment meant that this solution generated more interest in urban rather than rural deployment scenarios ​[1]​.

This assessment of rural connectivity strategies has been at the heart of my PhD studies and is an area I look forward to progressing with Real Wireless.

Real Wireless has worked in all of the different connectivity technologies and has provided techno-economic analysis to support investment in telecoms infrastructure for governments, regulators and service providers. We also understand the real-world challenges and practicalities of deploying such solutions in all types of locations – in an office building, in a stadium, across a city and across a country.

Find out more about how we help our clients reach their connectivity goals through our expert team.


​1. S. Koratagere Anantha Kumar, 5G network slicing for rural connectivity: multi-tenancy in wireless networks, Glasgow: University of Strathclyde, 2023.  

2. S. a. O. E. J. Koratagere Anantha Kumar, “Techno-economic assessment of 5G infrastructure sharing business models in rural areas,” Frontiers in Computer Science, vol. 5, 2023.  

3. A. a. S.-D. F. a. A. H. Bon, “Bridging the Digital Divide,” in Introduction to Digital Humanism, Springer, 2024, pp. 283-298. 

4. B. a. O. E. Osoro, “A Techno-Economic Framework for Satellite Networks Applied to Low Earth Orbit Constellations: Assessing Starlink, OneWeb and Kuiper,” IEEE Access, 2021.  

5. StrathSDR, “Our projects,” 2024. [Online]. Available: 

By Own work using: File: Sustainable Development Goals.png and PDF infographic from [] – Traced from File:Sustainable Development Goals.png, from, Public Domain,