March 19 2008 / by Venessa Posavec
Category: Technology Year: 2008 Rating: 10
The push to wire the whole wide world has taken another brave step forward. In a collaborative effort with UC Berkeley, Intel has developed a new wi-fi platform that allows data to be transmitted more than 60 miles away from the transmitter. Their focus is to bring connectivity to remote areas all over the world, and the goal is to make it commercially available in the second half of 2008.
Other methods of bringing wireless to a rural area, like laying cable or using satellite connections, have proven to be impractical and too expensive to implement. Intel’s Wi-fi radio is set to have a $500 price point, and requires so little power that it could be built to run on solar. The technology requires two devices to operate. One is installed on the outskirts of an urban area, wired to a local area network cable. The other goes to the previously unconnected village, and viola!, the first Internet connection is made.
Emerging markets are jumping on board, with devices already installed in India, Panama, Vietnam, and South Africa. The long-term implications for bolstering a rural community are limitless, but the most immediate application is being used to provide better healthcare.
A pilot project is underway in South India to provide eye care to people in rural villages who would otherwise have to walk up to 12 miles to reach a hospital. Now 3 villages have vision centers, enabling doctors in the city to provide consultations, eye exams, and diagnosis to patients via videoconferencing. The results of the project have been so successful that plans are underway to expand the wi-fi connection to five hospitals and 50 village clinics within 2 years, giving about a half million people eye care for the first time.
There’s a word that describes the concept of what’s going to happen next – it’s called leapfrogging. Remote areas won’t have to wait for major government funding to allow a communication infrastructure to be built. Instead, they’ll receive a wireless connection that can be installed quickly and at a fraction of the cost of the nearest alternatives.
This will allow people in developing countrie to more easily connect with the outside world, enabling new services and infrastructure that will improve their quality of life. Now we just need to get everyone a computer or mobile handheld device. But hey, it’s a good start.