|Topic:||Wireless broadband for community service|
|Organisation:||Convergent Communications India Pvt. Ltd|
Venkat Kedlaya is the Managing Director of Convergent Communications India Pvt. Ltd. Mr Kedlaya previously worked as General Manager of Motorola Information Systems Group’s Networking Division in South Asia and as Director of Motorola’s transmission products group in Asia Pacific. He also helped start Motorola’s first JV operations in India and was the General Manager of its two-way radio manufacturing facility in Bangalore. Prior to Motorola, Mr Kedlaya worked as a Product Manager at Modi Xerox and as a project manager with Rank Xerox in the UK. Venkat Kedlaya was the past President of Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce and is a Member of the National executive Council of MAIT, an organisation of IT industry in India. Venkat Kedlaya holds an M Tech in Electronics from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay,. and attended a Professional Training Management programme at Ashridge College in England and the Center for Creative leadership in Greensboro, USA.
Wireless communications have played a big role in India’s economic growth. The government has greatly facilitated the growth of wireless and its use for digital inclusion in remote and disadvantaged regions. NGOs and major companies have also supported major efforts to bring ICT to underprivileged communities. The Parikrma project uses wireless communications and state-of-the-art electronic classrooms to provide high quality education and Tata’s DHAN Foundation is helping put communities hit by the tsunami back on their feet.
India has had a great run with its wireless communication over the last few years. Today, it is the second fastest growing market for mobile service providers, handset manufacturers, infrastructure providers and VAS (value added service) companies. The government set forth a broadband policy in 2004 to encourage technology adoption by building on India’s lead in IT and ITES (IT enabled services), but the delay in allocating frequencies for WiMAX and licensing issues have held back the deployment of wireless broadband. This has slowed the plans of operators that depend upon licensed frequencies for connectivity. Still, great opportunities exist, as the pilots for some applications developed in India have been very successful. Once the issues of frequencies and connectivity are resolved, the market will open and the country will see rapid growth in wireless broadband. There are two recent non-profit projects using wireless solutions for last mile connectivity that are especially interesting. They have made available applications to communities that otherwise would be on the wrong side of digital divide. Wireless broadband at schools for the underprivileged Parikrma, an NGO (non-governmental organisation) headquartered in Bangalore, is engaged in uplifting the condition of children from economically disadvantaged communities and slums. It has created four schools in different slum areas in Bangalore. They give children from the slums high quality primary and secondary education. To ensure the children continue in the programme, the education is cost-free. The children in Parikrma’s schools also receive free uniforms, study materials and even medical care. Each of the schools has a fully functional computer lab with 15 to 25 computers to give the children access to latest e-Learning tools and software. The schools have experts and a visiting faculty from various fields to provide quality education. With the active participation of their students in the classrooms, Parikrma investigates technologies and ways to efficiently disseminate knowledge. They initiated their E Class Room project to address this need. As part of the project, one classroom in each of the Parikrma schools was designated as the ‘E Classroom’ and equipped with interactive touch-sensitive 6 ft x 4 ft whiteboards, an overhead projector, camera, speakers, an audio system with wireless mikes and a desktop PC with a no-break power supply. Windows compatible multimedia software helps integrate all of these units. Teachers can now prepare and project lessons in multimedia format on the whiteboard. Digital study materials can be transmitted to, and shared among, all of the project’s schools so all the students involved can view them. Teachers and students write with e-Pens on the same interactive whiteboards, which are used along with special e-Learning tools and content, to ensure better interaction and participation. Parikrma interconnected all four schools, so they can simultaneously beam the proceedings in any e-Classroom to all the e-Classrooms in other schools without compromising interaction and participation. Point-to-point wireless links (10 Mbps bandwidth) were setup in a license free band to connect the four schools. Wireless repeater sites were deployed at intermediate locations to avoid the need for towers. A centrally located server with video compression software compresses the bandwidth intensive multimedia applications. With the above installation, students from the four schools can interact and share the lectures, presentations and whiteboard comments in real time. With the help of document conferencing and video conferencing tools, they can participate with students from other schools in collaborative learning experiences. Management and teachers at these schools can hold their weekly meetings using the installed video conferencing setup. This saves them from the considerable time, effort and expense required to attend the meetings. The e-Class installation was integrated with Internet provisioned at one of the schools. Prior to this, each school had a separate two Mbps broadband Internet connection. By using the wireless network for Internet access, the schools save 50 per cent of their monthly Internet bills. The integration also facilitated the centralized management by one system administrator of all the computing resources from one location. Teachers in the e-Classrooms and computer labs in any of the schools can access the Internet and share its vast knowledge base with students on the interactive whiteboard. The project went live recently. The children were excited to see and speak with their teachers in other locations. The wireless technology brought the community closer and the feeling was one of excitement. We expect more institutions to deploy wireless broadband solutions. DHAN Foundation – connectivity for tsunami relief The DHAN foundation is an NGO funded by Tata to uplift the economy in backward areas in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. After the tsunami hit the coast in December 2005 there was almost no communication infrastructure left. DHAN started working on building an information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure to connect all the villages affected by the tsunami in the six coastal districts of Tamil Nadu. The DHAN Foundation initiated an ‘Information Technology for the Poor’ initiative in areas hit by the tsunami, with the following objectives: • Through research and pilot activities, develop relevant programmes to bring information technology to the poor; • To experiment and conduct socially relevant micro-finance programmes for agriculture, health and other social development activities; and • To collaborate with research and academic institutions on e-Governance and computer education at schools. Info Kiosks with PCs were setup in each of the affected villages. The Info Kiosks are interconnected using point-to-multipoint 10/20 Mbps radio clusters. Each of the Info Kiosks is equipped with one or two computers, webcams, speakers, mikes and radio links. The DHAN foundation provides the following services on its info network: • Sustainable information and communication technology in areas affected by tsunamis; • High quality, affordable, computer education to the poor students in tsunami affected coastal areas to improve their career prospects; • e-Governance support; • email and browsing; • e-Talk; • Video conferencing; • Computer aided adult literacy training; • Online resource consultation (fisheries, health, agriculture, legal, animal husbandry and education) – lectures and presentations by experts in these areas are transmitted on a fixed schedule; • Disaster management (already implemented); • Community web portal; and • Each boat is equipped with GPS so that fishermen can note where fish were caught and advise fishermen in nearby villages. The DHAN Foundation has interconnected the 70 kiosks in six districts viz., Kalpakkam, Sirkazhi, Vellankani, Karaikal, Pondicherry, and Cuddalore. Connectivity – the diagram below portrays a typical district network. The DHAN foundation opted for terrestrial radio network over solutions like VSATs, Leased Lines, VPNs for following reasons: • No recurring costs; • Highly reliable links; and • High bandwidth to sustain voice, video and data communication multimedia applications A wireless backbone was deployed to connect rural communities. Although voice communication was the obvious starting point, the network was designed with the ability to provide the community with a wide variety of advanced applications. Advanced technology now makes it possible to use higher bandwidths to reach people in remote areas quickly and affordably. The operating costs are low. Nevertheless, since the initial investment is high, governments and businesses will have to come forward to facilitate these projects and guarantee the widespread inclusion of remote and disadvantaged communities. The continued advance of wireless broadband technology is making it easier to realise projects such as these.