Affordable Long Range Wireless Connectivity for Rural Community
2008 - 2010
Figure 1: Deploying the wireless relay station on hill top
The Long Range Wireless project was initiated as a proof-of-concept to solve the first-mile limitation to expand the Telecentre service to nearby longhouses or villages. This project was funded under ScienceFund from Ministry of Science and Technology Innovations, Malaysia for the period between 2008 to 2010. The selected site for this proof-of-concept is Bario, the Kelabit Highland in the remote rural of Sarawak. Bario was chosen because of its mature Telecentre establishment under the initiative of eBario Telecentre project started in 1999. The Long Range Wireless project is an add-on to the existing eBario Telecentre aiming to expand the influence of the Telecentre in Bario. Although eBario Telecentre has been a great success in bridging the digital divide between Bario and urban cities, it main influence was still very much centered at Padang Pasir area where users from other villages shall make their journey from their village to the Telecentre in order to take advantage of the deployed technology for communication.
The initiative to starting this project came from a conversation with the local artist, Steven Baya at his very unique art gallery and homestay, Jungle Blue Dream at Ulung Palang village in Bario. Steven told us that he will travel to the Telecentre every morning and evening just to check his email to see if there is any message coming from outside. Even though Steven and his wife have probably got used to the routine traveling to the Telecentre but he said it would be wonderful if he can just sit in his gallery and checking his email from there. That statement has quickly triggered our thinking that maybe it is possible to extend the Internet connection wirelessly from the Telecentre to his art gallery and from there we went on to put in a research proposal to the ministry to make the very first proof-of-concept of the long-range wireless system to bridge the Telecentre and other nearby villages.
The Pilot Deployment
The pilot deployment was a test connection from the eBario Telecentre to the Jungle Blue Dream lodge. The wireless connection is relay through our early version of wireless relay station prototype mounted on a resting hut on top of a hill between the Telecentre and the lodge house. Owing to there is no available power supply on top of the hill, we innovated a small enough solar power installation to power up all the required equipment. At the lodge end, we designed the receiving equipment to be able to run on battery most of the time, and the battery gets charged when the owner switches on their diesel power generator during the night. This shall cut down some cost on providing a separate power supply system just for the receiving equipment or CPE (customer premises equipment). The deployment marked a successful in proving the concept to work and we have also built a portable version of the CPE to go around different areas of the village to further evaluate its performance.
The formulation of the pilot wireless connection between the Telecentre and the lodge house has given us a number of challenges beyond our imagination. In order to make the system fully operational and providing reliable service at all time, we have to look into all subsystems involved, including optimizing each of them so that they are practical for rural deployment and at the same time to cut down further on costs. All of these challenges have led us into the next phase of the project, to integrate and deploy a larger scale wireless relay network to interconnect more villages in Bario, which is part of the eBario 2.0 initiative.