Bangladesh City Unwires with Sun-Powered Mesh

By Eric Griffith

February 22, 2006

The Strix equipment being used to provide a voice-centric wireless network to the port city will be outfitted with solar panels to keep the network running at all times.

The port city of Chittagong is known as the commercial capital of the underdeveloped South Asian country of Bangladesh. And it is on the road to wireless.

Local telco Nextel Telecom has partnered with New York-based Accatel on the deployment of a mesh network that will be built using mesh equipment from Strix Systems. The big differences for this network are that its primary use, at least for a while, will be for voice. And the vast majority of the 90 nodes covering the eight square miles deployed for the first phase will all be powered by everyone’s favorite ball of galactic plasma, the sun.

“The power grid there is not as stable as in the United States,” says Nan Chen, Vice President of Marketing at Strix. “[Solar power] gives them the freedom of choices for installation sites.” The Strix Access/One Network Outdoor Wireless System (OWS) is a multi-radio product.

The network isn’t part of any kind of government/municipal program. Accatel had to apply for all the permits to become a voice provider, and gets no special treatment on where it can install the mesh nodes. End users will get special customer premises equipment (CPEs) for homes or businesses to connect them to the mesh. Yishai Shapir, CEO of Accatel, says their current CPE is priced at about $250, and they hope to bring it down to $100.

“Our biggest factor is the cost of entry level,” says Shapir. “We’re focusing on that.” However, only the CPE is needed — there’s no need for a laptop or special phone to connect. Customers who want access to the Internet for data services will pay a little extra on top of the voice fees. “The same CPE device can go into a business... and can give video access later on, as well,” he says. The voice network will be based on the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

The solar panels that will power the nodes aren’t specific to or supplied by Strix. Accatel engineers have calculated the power consumption needs, and are using solar panels and batteries from third parties. The Strix nodes that connect to the main Accatel hub will likely run on generators, but the rest of the nodes will be strictly sun-powered, assuming all the current tests work out.

There are certain areas of Chittagong that lack voice services, and Shapir says Accatel is concentrating on them. The companies expect to have the potential to reach 10,000 subscribers with the first phase of the deployment. Stage two, in about a year, would add another 20,000, and by the end of three years, covering 3.5 million people, the voice subscriptions could hit 200,000.

Eventually, Chen says the goal would be to cover the entire country -- which, with 144 million people, is the seventh most populous nation in the world -- with wireless voice and data services.



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