Catalan wireless broadband takes to mobile masts

Rural solution?

The Register's Wireless LAN Channel

Network infrastructure costs are a big concern - not only for those building the networks, writes Rob Bamforth of Bloor Research.

Local authority plans and those people who live in the back yards that are being dug up or having masts built upon are also affected. New services seem to demand more new structures and disruption. Operators are reluctant to invest in regions where returns are likely to be low, and costs high - no surprise.

Yet the disconnected alternative is also unwelcome. Local businesses are disadvantaged if there is no fast access to the networked economy from their rural location. Would-be tele-workers in remote locations struggle without broadband connections and are forced back on the road to the office and so increase congestion.

It's good then to see projects that combines reuse of infrastructure with high-speed connection in a rural environment.

A Catalan company specialising in WiFi services, AWACat, has created a rural area wireless LAN (WLAN) in the Penedes region south of Barcelona, working with 3Com Corporation. Penedes is a wine producing region probably best known for Cava, almost 95 per cent of which is produced here. So as a typically rural and strongly agricultural region, the population and around 200 businesses are spread across a challenging terrain. This would be expensive and time-consuming to wire up for broadband speeds.

The idea from AWACat and 3Com is fairly simple. Create the network with low cost point to point links using existing infrastructure, and slot in WLAN access points where demand for access requires it. The point to point units are 3Com building to building bridges, each about the size of a video recorder. These are attached high up to give distances up to 24 kilometres with 11Mbps links. Where possible, and with appropriate agreements, they can be mounted on existing communications infrastructure, typically mobile phone masts. Well, if the planning permissions are already in place, why not re-use?

Now before you head out to Barcelona with a crate full of chalk to mark the pavements, network access has been secured using Radius authentication over and above the basic 802.11b Wired Equivalent Privacy, WEP.

The technology for building regional WLANs is not new, and there are a number of projects for WLANs in densely packed city districts. The one underway from the City of Westminster Council, a project called Westminster4G, initially flooding Soho, is expected to cost around £15M when completed and cover the whole of Westminster.

However the low cost approach in Penedes is different. This might well be a way for rural regions less well off than Westminster to be able to provide a valuable service to local businesses and residents. This is especially interesting for areas deemed uneconomic by existing suppliers. It would be ironic if local authorities could then find use from the forests of recently opposed telecommunications masts. Ironic, and perhaps environmentally sound re-use. © IT-Analysis.com

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