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Ear to the ground with Wi-Fi phones

Saroda (Kanpur), March 16: “Hello, How are you' I am calling you from our village. Everything is all right here. There is a long queue. All of us want to use this phone. So, will talk with you later,” says Prabhu Muniam, a Kanpur farmer after walking past another milestone in the country’s ever-widening telecom revolution.

Muniam is raving about a phone based on Wi-Fi — Wirless Communication technology developed by Media Lab Asia. The company, a venture between the ministry of communications and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has test-launched its contraption in a village with no basics of life — power, roads and water taps.

Thirty seven kilometres from Kanpur, Saroda is the nebulous launch-pad where Media Lab has joined hands with Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, to knit Uttar Pradesh’s industrial hub and its capital into a low-cost telecom network that benefits the most indigent. The 75 kilometres separating the two cities is dotted with cheap, high antennas — all links in the Wi-Fi chain.

You can connect two locations for as little as Rs 30,000. “This Digital Gangetic Plain project is striving to connect remote rural locations bypassed by conventional telecom companies,” says Media Lab Asia MD and CEO Bimal Sareen.

Normally, such networks can reach 300 meters, but directional antennas and amplifiers have enabled researchers at Media Lab Asia to go up to 75 kms. “The technology, code-named 802.11b is commercially viable. Our aim is to make it affordable for rural people,” Media Lab Asia general manager Atanu Mukherjee said.

What’s more, Wi-Fi hardware will cost much less in the next couple of years, and, as officials say, the systems can be purchased off-the-shelf.

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