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Motorola Bangalore is Building a Cost-effective Internet for Rural Communities in India

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Cell phones are transforming rural India at a rapid pace, mainly by providing connectivity at amazingly affordable prices and hence democratizing communication among the majority of India’s population. The next phase will be bringing the Internet to rural India. However, with low literacy rates, low income levels and an acute dearth of computers in rural India, the demand for Internet is at best limited to schools and a few offices in every village. Thus, rural India represents an emerging market with largely non-traditional user behavior and unpredictable adoption potential.

Taking on the unique challenge, the team in Motorola Bangalore is developing low-cost and medium-range networking technologies (1-1.5Km cell radii) based on the popular IEEE 802.11 a/b/g standards. The aim is to increase the range of the popular standard 10-fold with minimal modifications to the 802.11 standard. This will enable the team to use off-the-shelf components, keeping the equipment prices low. At the same time, increasing the range will allow them to support a large area (main buildings in a village, like school, postal office, administration buildings) in one wireless hop connected to one DSL connection. This ensures reasonable data rates to 20-30 terminals at 256-512 kbps, providing an adequate user experience.

To demonstrate their new technologies, the team is using WARP hardware and the WARP reference designs which are loosely based on 802.11 standards. The key research focus is on adapting the MAC protocol to handle longer distances and improving PHY performance to work at larger distances. The team (shown in the figure) consists of a cross-disciplinary team which has expertise in hardware, networking protocols, PHY layer designs and radio propagation.