Friday, Sep 05, 2003
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By Anand Parthasarathy
Sarauhan logged on to the world wide web a few months ago thanks to a project of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and Media Lab Asia, now a Government of India enterprise. Called Digital Gangetic Plain, the proof-of-concept project tries to extend the technology of wireless Internet (also called WiFi or 802.11b) far beyond its original intention of providing high-speed Internet access across distances of up to 300 m. IIT-K researchers succeeded in Net-enabling a wireless corridor that extended 75 km from Kanpur to Lucknow, by "hops" of up to 30 km each. By September-end they hope to reach Allahabad, creating a triangular hi-tech Gangetic Plain and a window to the world for hundreds of villages. The cost to each village? Around Rs. 2,000.
Across the world, at the Lab for Computer Sciences of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S., a project called RoofNet, an experimental rooftop multi-hop wireless mesh network, was launched last week. This aims to extend access to the fixed Internet by creating a wireless mesh based on cheap materials. Covering a 4 sq km area across the MIT campus and students' hostels, RoofNet allows anyone to join the mesh by putting a small omni-directional antenna,welcome
about half-a-metre long, on the roof and running a coaxial cable to a Linux-based personal computer or laptop which has a wireless LAN (local area network) or 802.11b card installed.
The project team, which includes Indian student Sanjit Biswas, has written special software which needs to be ported on the PC. One of the research quests is to try and learn how to administer such "self-organising" community networks where the topology or the way nodes are connected is constantly changing. The challenge is to make the data bits to take the best path, not necessarily the shortest one. Both the IIT-K and MIT initiatives share one objective: how to bridge the `last mile' that separates the Internet from those most in need of its resources. Separately, they have shown that by canny reworking, technologies conceived and indeed being exploited only for short distance commercial traffic can be reinvented to bridge the so-called `digital divide'.
MIT's `Technology Review' in an August 29 report on the RoofNet project says many hostel students found they could get Net connectivity as good as that offered by pricey broadband providers at a tiny fraction of the cost. And in many U.P. villages, youngsters are coming forward to set up "cyber dhabas" where wireless access to the Internet can be further extended.
Details of the Digital Gangetic Plain project can be found at the IITKanpur/MediaLab Asia web page http://www.iitk.ac.in/mladgp and information about the MIT RoofNet work is available on the web page of the Parallel and Distributed Operating System group of the Lab for Computer Sciences<109,90> (www.pdos.lcs.mit.edu/roofnet) .
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