The Akshaya project, the country's largest rural wireless network,
helps bring the benefits of e-governance and utility services like basic
connectivity to individual households in Kerala. A look at how it was
managed in stages. by Akhtar Pasha
The state government of Kerala, not only content with administering the
most literate state in India, wanted to extend literacy efforts to the
Web, through e-literacy. And it fulfilled this desire through the
project 'Akshaya', which is now driven by the gram panchayats. Akshaya is
the country's largest rural wireless network.
Delivery of Internet services to rural communities was one of the
biggest challenges in bringing IT to the masses. Project Akshaya accepted
this challenge head-on, and brought Internet services to the rural
residents of Kerala.
Infrastructure related to Akshaya has already been deployed in the
Malappuram district where 250 centers are on the network. Each Akshaya
center caters to between 1,000 and 1,500 households. By the end of March
2004, all 630 Akshaya centers will be online to help citizens guide and
support e-governance initiatives; intervene in community development;
buy and sell online; and to get relevant information. This will make it
the largest rural wireless network in India.
Linking difficult terrain
Early attempts at using dial-ups between locations had failed, because
bad quality connections allowed less than 10 percent of the centers to
go online. Always-on connectivity was the need of the hour.
Wiring up the entire district spread across 3,550 square km would have
been a daunting task. The geography comprised the Nilgiris in the east,
the Arabian Sea in the west, evergreen forests, ravines, hills, rivers,
and palm fringed coasts. The state government decided that rolling out
a wired infrastructure in the vast state would be impractical and
expensive. Wireless solution providers were asked to demonstrate the
feasibility of having a single wireless hybrid solution before a tender was
A Request For Proposal (RFP) floated in May 2003 received response from
around 75 solution providers with technology solution options like
wiring up the entire Malappuram district.
Tulip IT Services Ltd was chosen as the wireless system integrator for
the project. The company was chosen because the government found that
the solution promised to be based on hybrid technology, claimed to be
scalable, and was economical.
A pre-bid meeting was held for the respondents where the bidders
visited the Akshaya centers and assessed the technical requirements.
Santhanam G, Principal Consultant for Tulip IT Services Ltd said, "The biggest
challenge was to set up a Radio Frequency (RF) network. The hilly
conditions, difficult terrain, and thick vegetation in Malappuram are
unsuitable for RF."
The pilot goes live
A wireless network was designed with fiber in the backhaul by a team of
four people from Tulip IT Services Ltd, who worked with the Kerala
State IT Mission's technical panel.
The integrator put around 40 people on this project and implementation
began in December 2003. Post implementation, 10 people will remain to
maintain the network of 1,100 users.
"The network at Malappuram is the pilot. The Kerala government is
interested in having a statewide network by 2006," said Aruna Sundararajan,
IT Secretary, Government of Kerala. There are 13 more districts to go.
Bharti laid fiber for an 8 Mbps pipe in the backhaul. Tulip chose a mix
of wireless technologies, namely Wireless IP in Local Loop (WipLL) and
Versatile Intelligent Network (VINE).
VINE in the backbone
The backbone uses VINE technology. There are seven VINE points, using
2.4 GHz frequency, spread across the district connecting to the fiber
backhaul. The backbone is basically a number of radio...