Electronic Bulletin / Number 15 - September, 2005

Versión Español

Digital Communities - Digital Revolution for the Social Inclusion

Intel’s Digital Community Project consists of combining standards based wireless communication solutions such as WiFi and WiMax with information technology to create a revolution in access to digital services. It enables the connection of communities with limited access by driving down both build up and maintenance costs and empowering local governments. This is a result of combining open platforms with global standards. Open platforms take advantage of Moore’s Law to drive down costs by approximately doubling equipment performance every twelve months without additional costs. This has been a reality in the IT industry for the past decades and it is now coming to telecommunications world. Global standards provide interactivity for solutions from various vendors which simplifies network build out and operation, empowering local governments to create and operate their own IT and telecom infrastructures.

The digital community initiative allows local governments to provide accessible broadband connection to the Internet and to introduce new public services at aggressive prices. It can also help to increase safety, attract investment and promote economical development to improve the overall quality of life of the local population. Emerging markets with limited investments in telecommunication infrastructure have a unique opportunity to take advantage of wireless broadband solutions by connecting excluded communities such as remote villages or increasing the coverage in markets with limited services such as low income areas in large and medium cities. The cooperation between state and municipal governments and the private sector can accelerate adoption by reducing the required initial investment in infrastructure (capex), sharing operational costs (opex), and building economies of scale. New business models can now be developed with focus on digital inclusion and replication models can be created to cover whole countries.

Intel has been working in Brazil to help the industry understand the enabling characteristics of these new technologies and avoid Brazil missing this opportunity. . During the Wireless Forum series of events in São Paulo, the National Agency of Telecommunications (Anatel) and the industry debated how to rethink public property such as radio spectrum and access to public facilities in relation to the concept of these new services. Intel implemented a proof of concept project in cooperation with Ministry of Education in the cities of Brasília (DF) and Ouro Preto (MG). The objective was to verify the possibilities of applying wireless broadband to connect public schools which would serve as starting points for connecting whole communities. The project seeks to establish a cookbook for how the Ministry of Education can create a partnership with the local government to transform the connection to a school lab into a wireless cloud covering the whole community. The city of Ouro Preto presented a good location for pilot. It is located in highly uneven land which creates propagation challenges for the radio. Ouro Preto is also a United Nations designated “World Heritage Site" making it impossible to disturb the city’s infrastructure to lay cables. Also, the city is host to a federal university that provides technical support to the pilot. Its human development index also matches other locations where the private sector believes there is limited business opportunity. Intel intends WiMax to prove the opposite.

However, wireless solutions are just the first step. There are a number of barriers to implement digital communities. One of them is the current regulations that create a barrier for local governments to operate as telecom service providers. This limits the government’s ability to collaborate with the private sector by creating a competitive disadvantage. The usual limited offerings of backhaul solutions combined with a typical small paying base in remote locations makes the network's business model difficult to address. There are still other challenges on how to best balance political interests, implementation costs and planning. The direct engagement of the local population is fundamental. A partnership between the communities with their local governments should be implemented from the inception of the project. Integration companies, service providers and potential commercial partners should also be included from the beginning. The project’s activities should be actively communicated and promoted to the whole community.

An innovative concept called “wireless corridor” is been explored by Intel in Brazil to remove some of these barriers. A network of towers and repeaters allow for the simultaneous connection of several neighboring towns instead of just one location. The “wireless corridor” uses a single backbone infrastructure based on the same technology to standardize the overall network and reduce operational costs. The corridor is built on frequencies that don't require spectrum licenses such as 2.4 and 5.8GHz. Remote management of the corridor allows for its optimization to more efficiently use the network resources and better address the needs of the connected towns. A local financial sponsor is established to aggregate the network under on player and facilitate the interface with potential commercial operators interested in exploring the installed infrastructure for paid services. This arrangement can generate economies of scale that justify the commercial exploration of the network in spite of a limited paying base and remote locations.

To invest in the digital revolution means to promote the social inclusion. Intel believes that taking advantage of this opportunity is a collective responsibility shared by the industry, academia, and government. Intel is working closely with these players to develop education solutions, venture capital funding, new regulation, and adoption of standards based solutions to help transform this vision into reality.

Max C. Leite
Director Technology Programs, Latin America
E-Mail: max.leite@intel.com


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