RealTime IT News

Wi-Fi Delivers For Developing Countries

DakNet is a patented wireless package that does away with base stations. Instead, a custom Mobile Access Point (MAP) is mounted on, and powered by, a vehicle. A government bus is being used in a current implementation that transports data to and from wireless-enabled computers. The plan is to export DakNet to various parts of the globe.

The deployment is one of many taking place throughout the developing world. Rather than customers sipping lattes in a wireless-enabled coffee chain, Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) is becoming a platform for the development of data and voice communications where often none existed before.

Earl Mardle, Information Manager for international advocacy organisation, Technology Empowerment Network (TEN) neatly summarises the trend.

"Three years ago, if anyone had suggested that broadband Internet could be delivered to your door for almost nothing by a geek with a Pringles can for an antenna, you would have been locked up," he quips.

High costs associated with legacy Public Switched Telephony Networks (PSTN) are often outside the reach of some developing countries. This is particularly the case in rural areas that have lower subscriber density or geographic challenges such as mountainous terrain, large bodies of water, or jungles. But disruptive technologies such as WiFi are ready to challenge the status quo.

Mardle says, "with the growing adoption of WiFi flavours and the probable integration into the chips that drive the machines, the whole process of expanding broadband coverage will slowly, then very quickly, become a trivial issue."

The benefits for developing countries are particularly significant. These include greater possibilities in multimedia and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) applications, community control and involvement, including job and skill creation. WiFi is also a low entry investment, can generate valuable revenue, and is relatively easy to replicate and relocate.

Mardle continues, those trends will "be hastened by the development of cheap mesh networks devices, which are networking tools par excellence and make possible David Reed's model that assumes that every new user adds more bandwidth than they consume."

David P. Reed explains in a recent submission to The Federal Communications Commission's Spectrum Policy Task Force, "what is clear from analyzing networked architectures is that as the demand for capacity increases, and as the density of terminals increases, adaptive network architectures that involve cooperation among all of the communicating entities create radio systems whose capacity can scale as demand increases."

"This is a whole new way of thinking about connectivity," Mardle says, "and must be driving crazy the businesses, like the telcos, who have poured huge resources and debt, into building fibre networks and running cable everywhere."

He points to several examples to reinforce the perception that broadband access is becoming a trivial add-on. These include multinationals such as Starbucks and McDonalds offering wireless Internet will burgers and lattes.

"These all indicate that owners of legacy systems are going to get their tails caught in the crack," Mardle continues, "as newer, cheaper, simpler, broader bandwidth technology comes on stream. Throw in a growing realisation that David Reed is also right about the fake issue of 'interference' and it starts to look like a paradigm shift."

For developing countries, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) argues that, "with the increasing privatisation of the telecoms industry worldwide, many economically under-developed regions, particularly in rural and remote areas, remain outside the scope of the public infrastructure. For this reasons, initiatives to achieve universal service can capitalise upon newer wireless technology in rural zones."

Several such initiatives are already underway throughout the globe.

One example is DakNet, which was originally conceived, developed and patented at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The project is an exportable solution for the 'first mile' with a low-cost wireless network that is easy to set up and maintain.

The Government of India, who provided seed funding, and MIT established Media Lab Asia in 2001. DakNet is one project under the Bits For All initiative developed by the not-for-profit company.

Media Lab Asia consists of regional laboratories with input from grassroots communities.

Wireless network research focuses on mesh peer-to-peer topologies for rural 802.11 networks that will solve the 'last 25 kilometre' problem of rural India. Many communities are within 25 kilometres of fibre.

Reprinted from Australia.Internet.com.