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Communications

Long-Distance Wi-Fi

Intel has found a way to stretch a Wi-Fi signal from one antenna to another

located more than 60 miles away.

by Kate Greene March 18, 2008

Intel has announced plans to sell a specialized Wi-Fi platform later this


yearthatcansenddatafromacitytooutlyingruralareastensofmiles

away,connectingsparselypopulatedvillagestotheInternet.The
wirelesstechnology,calledtheruralconnectivityplatform(RCP),will

behelpfultocomputerequippedstudentsinpoorcountries,saysJe

Galinovsky,aseniorplatformmanageratIntel.Andthedataratesare
highenoughuptoabout6.5megabitspersecondthattheconnection

couldbeusedforvideoconferencingandtelemedicine,hesays.

TheRCP,whichessentiallyconsistsofa

processor,radios,specializedsoftware,

andanantenna,isanappealingwayto

connectremoteareasthatotherwise

wouldgowithouttheInternet,says

Galinovsky.Wirelesssatellite

connectionsareexpensive,hepoints

out.Anditsimpracticaltowireup

somevillagesinAsianandAfrican

countries.Youcantlaycable,hesays.

Itsdicult,expensive,andsomeoneis
goingtopullitupoutofthegroundto
Message received: This Wi-Fi router from Intel uses

sellit. specialized software to send data to a receiving radio

more than 60 miles away. The goal is to connect

sparsely populated rural areas with urban cores.

Already,Intelhasinstalledandtested

thehardwareinIndia,Panama,

Vietnam,andSouthAfrica.Laterthisyear,thecompanywillsellthe

deviceinIndia,withatargetpricebelow$500.Thepointtopoint

technologywillrequiretwonodes,whichcouldprovidefullbackend

infrastructureforlessthan$1,000,Galinovskysays.

Onenodeisusuallyinstalledattheedgeofanurbanarea,wiredtoa

localareanetworkcable,heexplains.Usingadirectionalantenna,the

deviceshootsdatatoareceivingantennaasfaras60milesaway.Any

fartheraway,andthesystemencountersproblemsduetothecurvature

oftheearth.Practically,mostlinkswillbesetuplessthan30milesaway

fromoneanother.Onceanodeisinstalledinavillage,theconnection

canbedispersedusingstandardcablesandwirelessrouters,Galinovsky

says.

Thereisnothingparticularlyinnovativeintheantennatechnologyand

therouterhardware,hesays.Thetrick,heexplains,comesinthe

softwarethattheradiosusetocommunicatewitheachother.Ifyou

takestandardWiFiandfocusit,Galinovskysays,youcantgetpasta

fewkilometers.Thereasonisthatoneradiowillsendoutdataandwait

foranacknowledgmentfromtheotherradiothatthedatawasreceived.

Ifthetransmittingradiodoesntreceivetheacknowledgmentina

certainamountoftime,itwillassumethatthedatawaslost,anditwill

resendit.

IntelsRCPplatformrewritesthecommunicationrulesofWiFiradios.

Galinvoskyexplainsthatthesoftwarecreatesspecictimeslotsinwhich
eachofthetworadioslistensandtalks,sotheresnoextradatabeing

sentconrmingtransmissions.Werenottakingupallthebandwidth

waitingforacknowledgments,hesays.Sincethereisaninherenttrade

obetweentheamountofavailablebandwidthandthedistancethata

signalcantravel,themorebandwidthisavailable,thefartherasignal

cantravel.(SeeavideowithatechnicalexplanationoftheRCPhere.)

Importantly,thedevicesrequirerelativelylittlepower.Runningtwoor

threeradiosinalink,Galinvoskysays,requiresaboutvetosixwatts.

Thismakesitpossibletopowertheradiosusingsolarenergy.

TheIntelprojectandforthcomingproductsoundlikeahugestep

forwardintermsofusablebandwidthoverlongrangelengths,says

DeborahEstrin,professorofcomputerscienceattheUniversityof

California,LosAngeles.Estrindevelopstechnologyforsensornetworks

inremoteareasthatmonitorseismicactivity,amongotherthings.She

saysthatthesesensorsarespreadoutoverlargeareasandneedto

transmitlargeamountsofdata.Previouslowpower,inexpensive

wirelesscommunicationtechnologiescouldonlystretchafew

kilometers,shesays.WhatsimportantisthatIntelisgettingmuch

longerdistances.

GalinvoskysaysthattheRCPisalluringtomarketsbeyondIndia.Were

seeingalotofinterestintheindustry,hesays.Everytimewetalk

aboutthis,theysay,Weneedthisyesterday.

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