I have watched competing technology claims for providing broadband to rural areas. But the promise of an enormous market in India, and other parts of Asia may fianlly contribute to a workable solution for my slice of corner of rurality.
Already, Intel has installed and tested the hardware in India, Panama, Vietnam, and South Africa. Later this year, the company will sell the device in India, with a target price below $500. The point-to-point technology will require two nodes, which could provide "full back-end infrastructure" for less than $1,000, Galinovsky says.It is more than slightly ironic, that an answer for the one-percenters who struggle to get broadband economically here in the US will get relief when technology is finally able to serve the very poorest markets. the beauty here is the simplicity and extremely low cost. In fact, I could see some rural entrepreneurs setting up all kinds of quickie-networks using this equipment. I mean - 6.5 Meg both ways!
One node is usually installed at the edge of an urban area, wired to a local-area network cable, he explains. Using a directional antenna, the device shoots data to a receiving antenna as far as 60 miles away. Any farther away, and the system encounters problems due to the curvature of the earth. Practically, most links will be set up less than 30 miles away from one another. Once a node is installed in a village, the connection can be dispersed using standard cables and wireless routers, Galinovsky says.
There is nothing particularly innovative in the antenna technology and the router hardware, he says. The trick, he explains, comes in the software that the radios use to communicate with each other. "If you take standard Wi-Fi and focus it," Galinovsky says, "you can't get past a few kilometers." The reason is that one radio will send out data and wait for an acknowledgment from the other radio that the data was received. If the transmitting radio doesn't receive the acknowledgment in a certain amount of time, it will assume that the data was lost, and it will resend it.
Intel's RCP platform rewrites the communication rules of Wi-Fi radios. Galinvosky explains that the software creates specific time slots in which each of the two radios listens and talks, so there's no extra data being sent confirming transmissions. "We're not taking up all the bandwidth waiting for acknowledgments," he says. Since there is an inherent trade-off between the amount of available bandwidth and the distance that a signal can travel, the more bandwidth is available, the farther a signal can travel. (See a video with a technical explanation of the RCP here.)
Importantly, the devices require relatively little power. Running two or three radios in a link, Galinvosky says, requires about five to six watts. This makes it possible to power the radios using solar energy. [More, and be sure to watch the video linked above]
We tend to think globalization allows the Third World to piggyback on our advanced society. But increasingly I think we may borrow answers from the developing world to help those far down the economic and social ladders here in the US.