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DakNet: Internet Goes Rural Riding on a Motorbike

August 2, 2007 By

What do you do when you want to provide digital communication services like voice mail, digital documents and e-mail to those living in villages so isolated quite apart from no phones, there's no electricity -- where even availability of drinking water is a problem?

Take the Internet to them of course!

But how, when there's not even a proper road to the village? Why, on motorcycles! And if that doesn't work either, try bicycles.

That's exactly what a Massachusetts-based provider of "simple, low- cost, and easy to deploy" telecommunication equipment, United Villages, Inc. is doing these days to take information and communications services to over two hundred thousand rural residents around the world.

Creatively using the simple concept of Wi-Fi (802.11x wireless) and digital storage boxes, United Villages is distributing bandwidth from a hub with regular broadband Internet connectivity to users "as far as the road goes," says the company.

This technology, which United Villages calls DakNet, essentially uses Wi-Fi boxes fitted in buses or on any other vehicle - such as two wheelers for places where roads won't accommodate four wheelers. These start from a big town or city and go into interior villages to provide "store and forward" connectivity in rural areas.

According to Richard Fletcher, co-founder of United Villages, Inc., the DakNet wireless network takes advantage of the existing communications and transportation infrastructure to distribute digital connectivity to outlying villages lacking a digital communications infrastructure. Thus "DakNet, whose name derives from the Hindi word for post or postal services, combines a physical means of transportation with wireless data transfer to extend Internet connectivity that a central uplink or hub, such as a cybercafe, VSAT system, or post office provides.

Instead of trying to relay data over a long distance, which can be expensive and power-hungry, DakNet transmits data over short point-to-point links between kiosks and portable storage devices, called mobile access points (MAPs).

Mounted on and powered by a bus, a motorcycle, or even a bicycle a MAP physically transports data among public kiosks and private communications devices (such as an Intranet) and between kiosks and a hub (for non real- time Internet access).

Low-cost Wi-Fi radio transceivers automatically transfer the data stored in the MAP at high bandwidth for each point-to-point connection. DakNet operation thus has two steps: one, as the MAP-equipped vehicle comes within range of a village Wi-Fi-enabled kiosk, it automatically senses the wireless connection and then uploads and downloads data.

Then, when a MAP-equipped vehicle comes within range of an Internet access point (the hub), it automatically synchronizes the data from all the rural kiosks, using the Internet. The steps repeat for every vehicle carrying a MAP unit, thereby creating a low-cost wireless network and seamless communications infrastructure.

"This technology's main benefit," says Amir Alexander Hasson, the other co-founder of United Villages, "stems from providing ICT access to people in rural and remote areas who would have otherwise had to go a long way to access communication." Take the instance of the DakNet installation in a remote village called Kalapathar in Orissa, India. "Before DakNet," says a resident of the village "we had to travel over 20 miles spending $2 for the round trip journey, and almost a whole working day just to access a telephone line at the nearest post office. But now, sending an email costs us just about 2 cents."

The other benefit of the technology is its cost. "DakNet is currently al least an order of magnitude lower in cost than available alternatives such as cellular, satellite, and WiMax," claims Hasson adding that DakNet's infrastructure cost per line is just about 1% compared to the cheapest alternative, the fixed line phone.

Still, these two are not the biggest advantage of DakNet, say its developers. Its biggest benefit, according

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