Non Governmental Organizations | NGOs India | NGOs in Bangalore | NGOs in India

The three basic infrastructural requirements for rural ICT initiatives are, of course, (i) Electricity, (ii) Telephony (or its equivalent), and (iii) Network Connectivity. The problems associated with these inputs must be recognized as inherent features of the landscape, and tackled as an integral part of the implementation process.
(i) Electricity: In many rural areas, electrical supply may be restricted to only 6 or 8 hours a day. When electrical power is available, its voltage and frequency may vary far outside the acceptable limits of most hardware. Finally, there is often no earthing provided.
For most rural ICT projects, battery back-ups and Universal Power Supply-s (UPS-s) are mandatory. In some cases, multiple tractor batteries have been connected in parallel to create a mammoth UPS that can withstand day-long power cuts. In addition to these battery systems, circuit breakers and voltage stabilizers are also necessary. Several agencies have had to create their own earthing pits outside their village centers, by digging shallow trenches, filling them with salt, and making sure they are watered on dry sunny days. Constant maintenance of this privately constructed earthing pit is necessary to ensure that the equipment within is protected from power surges.
(ii) Telephony: Landline telephones are still not available in many villages in South Asia. Where they do exist they may be down for weeks at a time, and there may be other kinds of incompatibilities, which prevent data transfer.
Several different kinds of short-term solutions are possible to circumvent low teledensity in rural areas. A project in Pondicherry has implemented a wireless system for relatively slow data transfer using fax protocols. Short bursts of these wireless transmissions update the off-line content available at the village center. The various educational enterprises of Zee Interactive Learning Systems plan to rely on Very Small Aperture Terminals (V-SATs), which connect directly to their own communications satellites. The Gyandoot project in Dhar, on the other hand, initially chose its target villages on the basis of their telephone access, and their location relative to proposed Optical-Fiber Cable (OFC) routes.
Although it is possible to design rural ICT projects on the assumption that basic telephony will not be available, there is another, better, approach: Rural ICT projects may be used to test and design new kinds of telecommunications infrastructure, including, for example Wireless-in-Local-Loop (WLL or WiLL) technologies, which offer a cheaper, lighter, and more intelligent type of network. WLL systems allow simultaneous data and voice telephony across long distances (wireless), thanks to a local network of cables provided and maintained by a rural entrepreneur (local loop). Important applications of this technology have been developed at the TeNet Group at IIT-Madras.
(iii) Connectivity: Internet subscription is not always available in rural and underdeveloped sections of South Asia. Even when it should, in theory, be available, long distance calls to nearby towns may be required in order to achieve true connectivity. Poor telephony ensures that modem speeds are often restricted to 28.8 kbps or slower. The wireless-fax system in Pondicherry runs even slower, at under 14.4 kbps.
While WLL technologies will soon be able to provide simultaneous and continuous voice and data connectivity in local areas, computer kiosks in villages can also be designed so as to require only limited connectivity. Projects in Pondicherry and Warana, for example, allow users to access offline content, which is updated several times a day in brief bursts of data. In this way, a range of services may be continuously provided, notwithstanding narrow bandwidth, slow transfer rates, and intermittent connectivity.


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