There is an ongoing transition from the fourth generation (4G) cellular standard to the fifth generation (5G). Amidst this transition, addressing the connectivity needs of rural areas is still a distant dream. In this article, we discuss the connectivity requirements of rural areas and also present a network architecture based on these requirements. Low energy, low mobility, and large cell are the key aspects when designing a broadband network for rural areas. We refer to this network as the Frugal 5G network. We discuss two testbeds that we have deployed in India based on the Frugal 5G network architecture. The first testbed spanning 7 villages studies the feasibility of providing high-speed connectivity to rural areas via TV UHF band. The second testbed has been scaled up to 25 villages and studies the feasibility of connecting the rural areas by employing IEEE 802.11 (5.8 GHz) technology. Deploying such a large-scale network requires efficient planning which has also been discussed in the paper. Sustainability of the rural broadband network is an important issue and has been addressed by proposing a multi-stakeholder partnership model. Insights obtained from these testbed deployments suggest that for connectivity to be sustainable, network planning, use of renewable energy, local support & community participation, and efficient business model are the cornerstones that should be adhered to.

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