July 2006

Radio Technology

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Wire-line technologies are not really feasible for a successful e-Government strategy. However, the use of radio technology is capable of solving many of the problems being currently faced by governments trying to provide rural connectivity

The World Bank defines ‘e-Governance’ as referring to “the use by government agencies of information technologies (such as Wide Area Networks, the Internet, and mobile computing) that have the ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government”. These technologies can serve a variety of different ends such as better delivery of government services to citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to information, or more efficient government management. The resulting benefits can be less corruption, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth, and/or cost reductions.

Traditionally, the interaction between a citizen or business and a government agency takes place in a government office. However, with emerging information and communication technologies (ICTs) it has now become possible to locate service centres closer to the clients. Such centres may consist of an unattended kiosk in the government agency, a service kiosk located close to the client, or the use of a personal computer in the home or office.

Analogous to e-Commerce, which allows businesses to transact with each other more efficiently (B2B) and brings customers closer to businesses (B2C), e-Governance aims to make interaction between the government and citizens (G2C), government and business enterprises (G2B), and inter-agency relationships (G2G) more friendly, convenient, transparent, and inexpensive.

e-Governance initiative requirements

For any e-Governance initiative, there are some technical and commercial criteria that any solution must meet before it can be seriously considered. Some of the main criteria include throughput, scalability and adaptability, transaction latency, reach, price, broadband connection speed, and support for industry and international standards.

Throughput: How much data can the system transmit? An e-Governance initiative has to be self-sustaining in terms of generating revenues by piggybacking paid-services on the same network. Hence, the bandwidth required will change depending on the services to be offered like VOIP, e-Biz and market/weather reports etc.

Scalability and adaptability: It should be seen whether the bandwidth can be increased as and when required and the network can be extended easily. The network bandwidth should be able to arbitrarily grow while offering increased performance levels that might be demanded in the future. The network should be able to expand to provide future connectivity to any device, at any time and at any location within the specified coverage area.

Transaction latency: The time taken in accomplishing a given task needs to be assessed. However, different applications tolerate different latencies. Reach: The location where the service is to be provided needs to be identified. An e-Governance initiative will ideally reach every village. It therefore becomes important to ascertain that the technology used is capable of doing this.

Price: The cost needs to be determined. How much does it cost up front? What are the recurring and maintenance costs? These factors will determine the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the project.

Broadband connection speeds: The technology should be able to provide adequate bandwidth to support typical rural applications and services, such as Distance Education, Tele-medicine, Entertainment etc., concurrently and at a reasonable number of locations.

Support for industry and international standards: The technology should support industry and international standards to ensure lower costs and interoperability with different vendor equipment.

In a country like India, with limited resources, there are further dimensions that need to be considered while selecting a system – Ruggedness, and Reliability and durability. Regarding ruggedness, the operating temperature range of the equipment should be from -40ºC to +80ºC. The equipment should be about 95% humidity proof. For reliability and durability, the communications net-work should be recognised as a critical infra-structure and should not have a single point of failure. Fail-over and redundancy mechanisms should be embedded to ensure high levels of uptime.

Obstacles

Some of the major issues facing any e-Governance initiative in India include infrastructural inadequacies, time frame required for installation, costs, and geography. Issues such as power supply, telecom connectivity and bandwidth come in the purview of infrastructural inadequacies.

In rural India, the availability or lack  of electricity is well known. Despite best efforts, a number of villages still remain to be connected to the rest of India by telephone. Howsoever, when telecom connectivity is concerned, even if it is there the available bandwidth is not enough for Internet connectivity for e-Governance projects. The time required to set up leased line/cable networks is usually measured in months and years for far-flung areas in rural India. The use of traditional methods to provide connectivity – wires and cables on poles or underground – is expensive because of labour and material costs. Given the long distances and the difficult terrain that is often involved, Wire-line connectivity is impractical for all of India’s 638,365 villages.

Solution

For a successful e-Governance strategy, Wire-line technologies are not really feasible. Rather, many of the problems facing governments trying to provide rural connectivity can be overcome by the use of radio technology. To confront Infrastructural inadequacies such as power supply, telecom connectivity and bandwidth appropriately, installation of radios is important. To suitably tackle power supply problem, radios that work on AC as well as DC power can be installed (Hence, there is a possibility of using a solar panel for power supply). Wireless radio links provide an easy way to provide telecom connectivity even when there are no phone lines. Radios (manufactured by MakSat as per its claim) can provide connectivity at broadband speeds over distances of up to 75 kilometres.   It is very easy and fast to set up Wireless links, sometimes in a matter of days as there are only installations at the two ends. Besides saving on labour and material costs, Radio links also save on recurring costs of leased lines as they work on the free ISM Band of 2.4 GHz. Using OFDM technology (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing), there are Radio links that can work on NLOS (Near Line of Sight). OFDM uses a composite of narrow channel bands to enhance its performance in high frequency bands (such as 2.x/5.x GHz) in urban and rural applications where building-clutter and foliage can negatively impact the propagation of radio waves. Already, a point-to-point link installed has been working satisfac-torily over a distance of 75 kilometres.

Radio communications systems can be rapidly deployed – sometimes in days and weeks rather than the months and years of wired systems. Radio is less sensitive to distance or terrain difficulties. Radio can be cost effective, which is very important in a county like India where the cost per user/village has to be very less so as to provide the widest coverage possible. Radio is arguably a solution for the provision of service to the world’s telecommunications ‘have-nots’. All Wire-line technologies like ADSL and Cable have drawbacks, while Satellite links are still prohibitively expensive compared to Radio Links.

Wireless Infrastructure requirement

In case the system being installed is wireless, then there are some additional features which should be present.  These include Wireless broadband connectivity, operation in multiple frequency bands, multiple device support, robust error correction, centralised management solution, quality of service, and security.

The kiosks should be able to easily connect wirelessly in select locations and outdoor areas in the identified Gram Panchayat/Village to various applications and services, at any time. The system should be able to operate in multiple frequency bands (licensed and license exempt, if required) and over a wide range of channel bandwidths. For both connectivity and application access and usage, the wireless network should be able to support desktops, laptops, PDAs and similar devices. Robust error correction would allow the system to be deployed in less than ideal radio conditions.

A proposed e-Governance model

There should be a centralised management solution. The Service Provider should be able to control and manage the e-Governance centres established within a large area (may be a district) from a central location. Tools should therefore be available for efficient management of such infrastructure and to ensure that critical maintenance can be performed quickly with minimal disruption to the network community. There should also be provision for remote upgradation of the software provided with the equipment.

There should be a focus on quality of service (QoS). The wireless network should support latency and packet loss-sensitive applications such as streaming media, and it should have the ability to dynamically allocate bandwidth based on priority. The bandwidth allocation should also be remotely managed. Regarding security, it is possible that several government services would be provided through the network wherein confidential data would flow from the secured State Data Centre only to the authorised user. It is therefore necessary to have a robust but easy to use security solutions, transparent to the user wherever possible, woven throughout the wireless infrastructure to ensure confidentiality and integrity of all data passing over the entire network.

Case Study

A few projects for various state governments have been undertaken by MakSat Technologies. One such project was undertaken for the state of Jharkhand.  The state wanted to provide an interface for tourism information and for citizens to contact the various government departments through 15–20 kiosks spread across the selected cities. The kiosks were to be connected with a server kept at a centralised location, from which all the applications would run. The project rollout was to be in a phased manner and take the less possible time. The bandwidth had to be enough for Multimedia applications and the system had to be scalable and expandable for future additions to the services and if more kiosks needed to be added. The equipment had to be rugged to sustain extremes of temperatures and humidity.

Accordingly, one Base Station with an omni antenna for the central location and the Slaves for the Kiosks, connected in a Hub and Spoke configuration, were provided. Since the costs were to be kept as low as possible, Point to Multi-Point links between the central location and the kiosks were recommended instead of a Mesh network. The bandwidth provided is 2 Mbps, which can be increased in the future as and when required. The maximum distance of a Kiosk from the central location is about 20 kilometres. The equipment provided can sustain temperatures of -40°C to 80°C and can take humidity levels of up to 95%. Another solution that can be provided to States for their e-Governance initiatives is a Mesh network, which can seamlessly cover the entire city.

The network is very robust and self-healing as there are multiple paths to each node. The network can be used to provide wireless Internet connectivity, which will make the project self-sustaining by generating revenues for the state.

e-Governance project for rural areas

For rural areas, the solution consists of a Radio Hub every 30 kilometres or so. The Hub will be connected to the Government Offices and Procurement Centres by Point-to-Point radio links. The Radio Hub will further connect to local PoPs (Point of Presence), which will distribute the services to villages in a radius of 5 kilometres. Each village will have a kiosk run by local entrepreneurs, which will provide services.

Internet connectivity can be taken either at the State Administration offices or at sites near the Radio Hubs and distributed over the Wireless network. This project can be made self-sustaining by charging (or rather allowing the local entrepreneurs to charge) fees for the services. The project can be rolled-out in a matter of days for each such unit. This makes it a very cost-effective solution for rural areas. Remote management and monitoring software allows the state to have a centralised control system.

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