Powering Wi-Fi in Rural India

By Ed Sutherland

September 10, 2004

Just weeks after the government there gave the okay to expanded use of 2.4GHz frequencies, chip maker Atheros is making a push with local WISPs to expand wireless deployments.

Just weeks after the Indian government gave the go-ahead to Wi-Fi, 802.11 chipsets from Atheros Communications are powering a high-speed outdoor wireless broadband suite in the country.

"We're proud that our technology is helping to power a system that brings wireless connectivity to remote communities in India and elsewhere," said Colin Macnab, vice president of marketing and business development for Atheros.

Atheros is just one of the vendors that pushed India to open that country's door to 802.11. Until recently, the government there restricted Wi-Fi to 802.11b and then to only indoor installations, according to Praveen Singh, Atheros' country sales manager.

On August 25, the Wireless Planning & Coordination Wing of India's Department of Telecommunications de-licensed and opened up the 2.40-2.48 GHz band, permitting 802.11g to be used for certain applications.

As the price of laptops fall and more employees become accustom to 802.11g in their office and to DSL at home, dialup Internet connections just won't do.

While admitting there's "not a tremendous need for wireless," Singh says the number of homes with more than one computer is growing. Also pushing the need for Wi-Fi is the question of "connecting the last mile," says Singh.

"Many regions in the Indian subcontinent have very poor or nonexistent wireline infrastructure, since terrains are very challenging," according to BroVis Wireless Networks (formerly Air Manage Networks). Based in Cupertino, Calif., with product development headquarters in Chennai, India, the company will use the Atheros 802.11b/g chipset in its Broadcell suite targeting enterprise campuses, Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), hotspot providers, and telecommunications carriers.

With a clear line of sight (LOS) "almost impossible," the company believes "wireless last mile access and wireless distribution of broadband over wider distances becomes a necessity for broadband service providers."

In non-line of sight (NLOS) situations, Atheros claims its outdoor wireless broadband chipset can reach 3 miles (5 kilometers), while for LOS applications, distances can be up to more than 13 miles (22 kilometers).

While many Indian villages are remote, most are located, on average, 25 kilometers from a fiber Internet link, says Singh. The BroVis product is meant to "attack that," according Macnab.

Although well-suited for rural environments, BroVis will initially concentrate on urban WISPs providing Wi-Fi to apartments and homes.

"By taking this first step, we are embarking on the mission of providing affordable broadband for the masses in the Indian subcontinent region, both urban and rural communities," said Muthu Logan, CEO of BroVis.

A survey by India's Department of Telecommunications found just 1.5 percent of that country's rural citizens have access to a phone, while more than 20 percent of urban residents have telephone access. The agency has conducted a trial with Wi-Fi supplying connectivity to remote villages.

Although the new ruling allows 802.11b/g, the Broadcell system also has built-in support for 802.11a. The suite employs Atheros' Super A/G technology.

BroVis says it plans to concentrate on India during 2004, expanding into the U.S., Japan and Europe in 2005.

Estimates put the number of Wi-Fi hotspots in India at between 250 and 300, according to that country's Express Computer publication. Atheros is working with Indian telcos, including the country's number one provider, Reliance Infocom, which is planning to open more Wi-Fi hotspots.



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