Increasing Rural Broadband Can Help Rural Manufacturers Compete

The manufacturing industry is booming, but some manufacturers are struggling to compete. Rural economies have struggled to keep up with cities, and manufacturing lies at the heart of that divide. As Industry 4.0 propels urban facilities ahead, increased rural broadband access could help rural companies compete.


Rural manufacturing’s comparative decline is multifaceted, but the solution may not be. One of the most impactful distinctions between today’s most and least competitive manufacturers is access to reliable, high-speed internet. If rural broadband access grows, manufacturers in this area could capitalize on it to become just as, if not more, successful than urban competitors.


Rural Broadband’s Untapped Potential

It’s difficult to overemphasize the importance of the internet today. Many aspects of life and business rely on it, but broadband connectivity in rural areas is often poor. Nearly one in five Americans in rural areas don’t have access to high-speed internet, which the government defines as 25 Mbps.


The 25 Mbps standard itself is quickly becoming outdated, especially for industrial-scale applications. Still, rural areas lack access to even this level of connectivity. That becomes an ever-increasing disadvantage as Industry 4.0 picks up, as manufacturers must capitalize on connected technologies to stay competitive.


This issue presents a profitable opportunity for broadband providers. Technologies like fiber-optic connections could vastly improve rural broadband, so there’s considerable demand. Given the lack of competition in these areas, those that provide it first could see substantial gains.


If internet service providers capitalize on this potential, rural manufacturers could, in turn, take the chance to jump on this opportunity.


How Improved Rural Broadband Will Help Manufacturers

Of course, more widespread rural broadband access in and of itself won’t improve manufacturing. If manufacturers in these areas hope to compete with those in large cities, they’ll have to capitalize on this connectivity’s potential. That means heavier investment in Industry 4.0 technologies and strategies.


Here’s how these businesses could take advantage of faster, more accessible connections to compete with urban manufacturers.


Unlocking Automation’s Potential

One of the most important steps for any manufacturer today is to embrace automation. Experts predict that the industry will have 2 to 3 million unfilled positions by 2030 as current labor shortages grow. With more accessible broadband, rural manufacturers could automate more effectively, matching the efficiency of urban competitors with larger workforces.


Better internet connections mean higher bandwidth, not just faster speeds. With more bandwidth, facilities could host more connected robots in the same area. That way, rural manufacturers could automate their factories to a higher degree without sacrificing control or visibility.


Faster connections would also let automated machines communicate, becoming more flexible. When a robot encounters an obstacle, it could alert others in the workflow in real-time. The other machines could then adapt to the changing circumstances, avoiding disruptions that unexpected situations typically cause in automated workflows.


Keeping an Available Workforce Nearby

Increasing rural broadband will improve factors outside of the factory, too. As the internet becomes increasingly important in everyday life, people will migrate to faster, more connected areas. Considering that 85% of American adults go online at least daily, this shift is likely already taking place.


If rural communities can offer faster, more accessible internet, they can keep young people in the area. With more people staying, local manufacturers will have a wider talent pool to draw from, helping stave off labor shortages. Faster internet may even draw people in from other towns, further sustaining growth.


Rural towns offer a more affordable cost of living. If internet access and job opportunities equal those of cities, it may attract workers away from costlier urban areas.


Expanding the IoT

One of the most important technological advancements for Industry 4.0 is the internet of things (IoT). These connected devices provide more visibility and control into manufacturing operations, but rural manufacturing must expand internet connections to capitalize on them. Just like with automation, higher bandwidth would let manufacturers host more IoT devices in an area.


When facilities can be more interconnected, they can respond to unforeseen incidents faster. For example, some IoT-connected communications towers automatically alert operators via text in high-wind scenarios. The worker can collapse or lower the antenna remotely, keeping it from falling over and breaking.


Other IoT devices provide real-time data about energy consumption and can adapt to changing circumstances. Manufacturers can then adjust to minimize operating costs. While some facilities may already use these technologies, more broadband access would enable them to implement more.


Improving Supply Chain Visibility

Similarly, faster, more accessible connections enable real-time data sharing from supply chain IoT devices. The supply chain is a common source of delays and disruptions, but real-time data can help manufacturers respond to incoming challenges faster. However, to achieve that, rural broadband access must improve.


More reliable connections let manufacturers see data about fleet locations, traffic and similar factors in real-time. They can also allow for faster analytics, helping them resolve incoming issues faster. These AI-based route optimization strategies can reduce time and fuel costs by 22 to 71% in some cases.


With tools like this, rural manufacturers can mitigate delays and disruptions, minimizing supply chain costs. These savings will help them compete with urban facilities with shorter shipping distances.


Growing the Local Economy

Increasing rural broadband access can also support manufacturers by growing the economy around them. A recent Deloitte study found a strong correlation between high-speed internet availability and jobs and GDP growth. An increase of just 10% in broadband penetration in 2016 would have created more than 800,000 additional jobs in 2019.


As these historical analyses show, improving broadband now can help economies in the future. With stronger local economies, rural manufacturers will have more partnerships and client opportunities. They can then make profitable strategic decisions that are now only available to urban businesses.


Higher local GDPs could also lead to nearby businesses and consumers spending more on the products manufacturers make. They may also attract more residents, fighting the labor shortage.


Rural Broadband Will Push Industry 4.0 Further

Industry 4.0 relies on broadband connections, and facilities must embrace Industry 4.0 to stay competitive. Rural manufacturers are an untapped market for next-generation internet, giving them an opportunity for growth many may not realize.


If rural broadband access improves and local manufacturers capitalize on it, they can compete with competitors across the globe. As they grow, the industry will improve across the board.


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