Case study: E-governance

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'Akshaya' for rural India

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

floated.

RFP

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...
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