Chiang Mai: The Northern Rose Blooms with Connectivity
According to ITU, more than half the world's population has limited Internet access. And of the 60+% of households globally with no broadband connection, the majority live in remote and rural areas. In the undulating mountains of Chiangmai, an area known locally as the "Rose of Northern Thailand", many unconnected remote villages are scattered in the folds of the mountains – including Pornfah's village Maetoh and Banmaetoh school where she studies.
With the surrounding mountains acting as a natural and very effective barrier, her village is hard to access and poverty is rife. With no broadband connectivity, Pornfah and her classmates have limited access to information, relying on the outdated content of text books. Using computers and surfing the Internet were distant luxuries.
A mountain road spanning 60 kilometers provides the main access route connecting the village to the nearest city. However, the terrain and lack of drainage system cause flooding whenever it rains, leading to the local nickname "Water Road". And it's not just traffic that is blocked – the isolation prevents students from moving forward in their studies and the local community from escaping poverty.
Khan is Pornfah's neighbor. Suffering from a serious skin condition, and as local healthcare facilities are poorly equipped, he has to jump on the back of his friend's scooter to get to the nearest city when the pain and itchiness are too much to bear. That takes him a whole day, a significant hit for a farmer with a family to support.
Another local resident, In, said that as the income of the villagers here is so low, she often has to take her strawberries down the mountain to sell at the local market. As the buyers know she had to travel so far, they tend to offer low prices, knowing that she would rather sell the strawberries than take them home to rot. Despite In's frustration, there was little she could do.
However, while unconnected, Maetoh – and others villages like it – have not been forgotten. Led by the Office of The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), the vision of "The Country of One Digital" program under the USO NET project laid fiber optic cables to connect Maetoh.
From remote to within reach in one year
Broadband and Wi-Fi networks were connected, the vast panorama of the Internet went live, and a new chapter was written for Maetoh – a historic moment for the small village that has been rooted in the mountains of Chiang Mai for over 100 years.
In the USO NET Center, Pornfah and her schoolmates are now able to use computers to access the Internet, leveling the playing field to information access and enabling local children to pursue knowledge – and thus their dreams – in the same way that students in cities can.
And the benefits do not end at the school gates. The telemedicine service provided at the USO NET Center means that Khan can pop into the center and use a portable medical device to receive a consultation. The village doctor then forwards the collected data to the city specialist through real-time imaging for a more detailed remote consultation, taking the pressure off Khan to make long trips to the city.
From remote to within reach in one year
In's strawberry business is on the up – she can sell her produce through live online broadcasts and, like many other local farmers, is seeing her income steadily rise. And training provided by the USO team will help more villagers change their lives online.
The village's elderly residents can stay in touch with their younger relatives working in the city and also learn more about what is going on in the outside world.
The Internet has allowed an isolated village to touch the digital world for the first time.
How was the digital bridge built?
In 2018, the project team found that the residents living in the mountainous areas of Chiang Mai were not just far from the city, but also scattered across the village. The traditional fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) solution requires equipment rooms and dozens of kilometers of large-core fiber cables would be far too costly, creating a large footprint and an unsustainable connectivity model.
In contrast, Huawei's AirPON solution could reuse existing poles and fiber resources, creating an "air network equipment room".
AirPON has quickly emerged as a technology of choice that can help service providers quickly provide high-quality gigabit fiber broadband services to remote and difficult-to-reach areas by using existing poles and optical fiber resources. At the same time, AirPON is green and consumes little power.