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Friday, March 07, 2008

Intel’s rural connectivity platform


From Daily Wireless:
C/Net’s Charles Cooper spent Thursday hanging out at Intel Research Berkeley Lab where the company held an open house to showcase what it’s working on. Berkeley is one of three “lablets” (research projects) that Intel operates in association with two other universities. One is in Seattle (collaborating with the University of Washington), and one is in Pittsburgh (collaborating with Carnegie-Mellon).

Cooper says Intel’s Rural Connectivity Platform is a low-cost way of providing roughly 10 megabits-per-second connectivity to remote areas. Without obstructions, Intel says the wireless long-distance nodes can connect every 60 miles. The Rural Connectivity Platform (video) meshes point-to-point long-distance wireless links between villages, augmented with a number of broadband satellite connections. Intel researchers are currently assessing the performance of point-to-point 802.11 and 802.16 (WiMax) long-distance links in a wireless testbed in and around Berkeley, California. They also have deployed several test links in India and more recently, in Ghana, where they have demonstrated a bandwidth of 5-7 Mbps over an extremely long distance: 10.5 kilometers. Researchers will continue testing and modifying the technology in additional deployments in India in 2006.

A key component of this solution is a variation on IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) technology. While the 802.11 Media Access Control (MAC) protocol was not designed for long-distance communications, researchers believe that modifying the MAC layer should resolve the problem, without the need for hardware or driver modifications. The Berkeley lab will collaborate with other researchers from Intel, UC Berkeley, the University of Washington, and UC Riverside as well as consultants from Thinkbank and ACME Laboratories. In its simplest configuration, RCP has at least two end-point units that can be separated by line of sight (LOS) up to 100 kilometers (62 miles). RCP relay units can be used to extend the communications path across geographical barriers or to make “drops” to other communities between end-point units.

The hardware and software for the RCP end-point and relay units are designed to be reliable in highly challenging rural environments. The end-point and relay units utilize a single-board computer with an embedded 533 MHz Intel® IXP 425 network processor, Compact Flash Storage, 10/100 power-over- Ethernet (PoE) -capable Ethernet ports, long-haul radios (one to three depending on the configuration), and support for a Wi-Fi 802.11 access-point radio. The long-haul radios, which are commercially available from many suppliers, can be selected to accommodate different frequencies. They can potentially be upgraded to support WiMAX technology. RCP also utilizes parabolic antennas radiating in 900-MHz, 2.4-GHz, or 5.8-GHz spectrums to address tradeoffs associated with licensing, distance, and interference.

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