Nationwide Wi-Fi for Macedonia

By Eric Griffith

November 18, 2005

The underdeveloped European nation is going to have 90 percent of its residents covered, making the biggest Wi-Fi hotzone yet.

At 1,000+ square miles, it is going to be, at least for a while, the largest hotzone/Wi-Fi cloud in the world.

The Republic of Macedonia, a country that has survived despite tensions both inside (it almost had a civil war between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians) and outside (with neighbors like Greece), has few computer users – maybe 20 percent, by some estimates. However, in recent years, money from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) helped bring broadband to schools in a project called Macedonia Connects.

In a bidding process, USAID picked local ISP On.net to build out a nationwide network. On.net is funding the deployment of Wi-Fi equipment in the cities, towns and villages of Macedonia. To get the coverage they want, the company turned to the multi-radio mesh equipment of Strix Systems.

"They [On.net] have a tremendous amount of experience in this area, a lot of radio frequency and wireless expertise," says Cyrus Irani, Vice President of Strategy and Advanced Development at Strix.

Irani says there are two aspects of the deployment – those covering the dense populations of cities like the capital of Skopje, and those in more rural areas. Skopje, with a million residents, has about half of the country's population alone. Strix Access/One equipment has already been deployed there.  

Access/One equipment can support from two to six radios in a single node, dedicating radios to clients, incoming backhaul connections and outgoing backhaul connections.

Predrag Cemerikic, CEO of On.net, said in a statement that "Macedonia is known for its mountainous terrain, deep basins, and large valleys – none of which is conducive to deploying a wireless network. When On.net was entrusted with building a network that would overcome these challenges, we did our due diligence and tested virtually every wireless mesh networking system on the market." Strix was considered the "the highest performance mesh system and is the easiest to deploy" by the ISP.  

Irani says there are around 40 municipalities in Macedonia that will have Strix mesh installed, all interconnected by fiber or wireless optics. When it's all done in about ten to twelve months, he says 90 percent of the country's residents will be able to go online. While there will be dead spots, he says it's no different from cellular networks, where the least densely populated areas have few or no signals. In the more densely populated areas, On.net may offer customer premises units (CPEs) to business customers who want more reliable access.

While it's certainly one of the most ambitious (if not the most ambitious) Wi-Fi projects ever -- compare it to Wireless Philadelphia, which will cover only 140 square miles — the question remains: who will use it, if only one fifth of the population has laptops? However, if nothing else, Macedonia education officials said in a BBC report last week that they think the network could help bring together multi-ethnic schools where different ethnicities currently have not only different curricula, but even different staff, all in the same building. Perhaps the debut of the $100 laptop will make a difference in the future.

Others hope it will stimulate economic changes for businesses in the landlocked country. Even if nationwide Wi-Fi Internet access doesn't solve these problems, the country could become the blueprint for how to deploy it elsewhere.

Originally published on .

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