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India set to go the ‘wi-fi’ way

New Delhi, Sept. 17: India is finally joining the wi-fi revolution, which, techno-wizards say, will turn the telecommunications industry on its head. Wi-fi is a short-and-sweet moniker for a global standard for super-fast wireless data transfer that backroom boffins know by the ugly alphanumeric 802.11b.

So what is 802.11b' It’s the closest you can get to a citizens’ wireless internet access service—a clone of a private broadcasting network. And that could spell trouble for telecom companies that are sinking loads of money and miles of optical fibre into the ground to establish broadband networks.

The beauty of the wi-fi is that when you set up an access node in your home or office it radiates a certain distance beyond the four walls so that other people can use the network without raising your costs or damaging your performance. India is taking its first stab at 802.11b—which the techno junkie calls a family of wireless local area network (WLAN) specifications—with the government directing the Vidya Vahini project to use the wi-fi technology.

The project is designed to link 60,000 government schools through the internet and intranets. Wi-fi is at an experimental stage but it has a number of votaries who reckon it will change the way we communicate with each other. The biggest supporters of wi-fi are Nicholas Negroponte, director of Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Intel chief Craig Barrett.

Professor Negroponte predicts that ‘wi-fi’ technology will bring in another revolution in the telecom industry while Barrett has said this technology would be lapped up by developing countries to spiral broadband growth.

Recently on a visit to India, Barrett said that developing countries will lead the broadband revolution and in India this revolution will start with technologies like asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) and 802.11b.

Intel is committed to playing an important role in the Vidya Vahini project and will train teachers based on its curriculum in regional languages and students learning will be enhanced through applications, using PC Microscopes that have been donated.

The ministry of communications and information technology has waived the licence fee and wireless planning commission fees for the Vidya Vahini pilot project. The ministry aims to facilitate computer-aided learning, access to internet, on-line libraries, academic services, web broadcast, e-learning and sharing through this project.

The pilot project is a technical overlay over the existing schemes and aims at integration of technological tools and internet into the learning environment. In the east, the project is being implemented in South 24 Parganas in West Bengal and in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand. Gandhinagar (Gujarat) Chittor (Andhra Pradesh and Beed (in Maharashtra) are the other districts where the project is under implementation.

As part of the project, each of the schools will be provided with one fully networked lab consisting of personal computers, a server, software and internet connectivity of 128 kilobytes per second. These schools will act as anchors for nearby schools using the 802.11b technology.

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