Wireless broadband is key to the UN’s goal of connecting 85 per cent of world’s villages by 2015

Wireless broadband is primed for takeoff, particularly in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. Even here in Canada, the Alberta Special Areas Board (SAB) is rolling out a broadband wireless network based on the WiMAX standard to rural residents in southeastern Alberta, covering an area of 21,000 square kilometres. The network, which is being developed by Nortel and Netago Wireless, will be available to 80 per cent of SAB residents by the end of this summer.

Wireless offers faster deployment and lower costs than wireline options, though actual costs depend on circumstances. In developed countries a wireline system may still be more reliable than a wireless one, but for developing countries or rural regions, wireless could prove to be a more reliable – and realistic – option.

Macedonia, for example, is putting wireless broadband to the test for nationwide Internet connectivity. The country, surrounded by Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, and Serbia and Montenegro, is known for its medieval monasteries and Turkish bazaars. And it could well be the first country in the world to roll out a national wireless broadband network, providing 95 per cent of a country’s population with access to it.

The country is using Motorola’s Canopy wireless broadband platform as part of its Macedonia Connects Project, which aims to provide the entire country with low-cost high-speed connectivity across 25,333 square kilometres. Already, it’s delivering the service to 360 primary and 100 secondary schools, as well as 15 university faculties. Wi-Fi repeaters have been installed in 531 locations at schools, universities and local government offices to provide additional network connectivity to citizens and businesses.

Indian state sees benefits
The Indian state of Rajasthan is also trying wireless broadband on for size. Known for its majestic palaces and ancient forts set in the Thar desert, the state has a population of 60 million people living in an area of about 132,140 square miles. Predominantly rural, Rajasthan is comprised of 10,000 villages with Panchayats, or self-governing councils, that have previously not been able to communicate with one another.

Rajasthan is the first of India’s 26 states to begin construction of a state-wide broadband wireless network using Motorola’s Canopy wireless broadband platform. The network, which will provide access to data, voice and video, will form a “grid” that will eventually connect the state’s Panchayats, giving village councils and citizens the ability to communicate with one another. Also, in the event of an emergency, the network will help co-ordinate disaster management.

In Asia, the Asian Broadband Campaign is aimed at deploying WiMAX wireless broadband in Southeast Asian countries. Intel is working with governments, public sector agencies, telecommunications regulators and carriers to conduct WiMAX trials among public and private sector groups.

The idea is to create an integrated region of connected villages, cities and countries, and promote technology use in areas such as education, healthcare and agriculture, while improving citizens’ access to e-government. Trials took place in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines last year; this year, Indonesia and Vietnam are planning to run trials.

In Saudi Arabia, trials began in January for what will be the Kingdom’s largest wireless broadband network, using IP technology from Cisco and WiMAX technology from Redline Communications. Broadband services, including data, voice and video, are expected to be up and running by April.

While this technology offers a “leapfrogging” opportunity for developing countries, there are still challenges to overcome, such as spectrum policy and rural sustainability. To work, governments, regulators and the private sector must work together to develop best practices. The United Nations’ Millennium goal is to have 85 per cent of the globe’s villages connected to the Internet by 2015.

For that to become a reality, wireless broadband needs to be part of the solution.

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance journalist and former TIG editor. You can contact her at vhimmelsbach@itbusiness.ca

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