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DEVELOPMENT REPORT - A WiLD Idea: Wireless Long-Distance Internet for Rural Poor

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Eric Brewer at his Berkeley Intel Research Laboratory
Eric Brewer at his Berkeley Intel Research Laboratory

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Eric Brewer is a busy man. He is a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also director of the Intel Research Berkeley Lab. There, he leads a team of students and Intel company researchers on projects with new technologies.

One of their creations is a WiFi-based long distance network, or WiLDNet. Wi-Fi is short for wireless fidelity. Wi-Fi connections, or hot spots, can be found in airports, hotels, coffee shops and many other places.

But Wi-Fi is designed for short distances. Eric Brewer predicts that most WiLDNets will only need to cover several kilometers of territory. Yet, in Venezuela, a network using WiLDNet technology and special software reaches over three hundred eighty kilometers.

Each endpoint in a WiLDNet uses a router that takes only about seven watts of power. It can be powered by car batteries, energy from the sun or electricity from a local provider.

The routers cost about four hundred dollars. But Eric Brewer tells us the price should be less once the technology is finalized for mass production. The networks use antennas aided by relays in places where they cannot be stationed in direct line of sight of one another.

WiLDNets can be used for humanitarian or business purposes or both. The hope is that companies will expand connectivity in rural markets.

Rural schools in Ghana and the Philippines are using WiLDNets to connect to the Internet. And in Guinea-Bissau, networks are being used to link community radio stations.

In southern India, a WiLDNet connects eye-care centers in poor villages to an eye hospital in the city of Theni. Villagers receive care from doctors at the hospital through videoconferencing. So far, thirty thousand patients have been examined this way. Eric Brewer says three thousand patients with especially serious vision problems now are able to see much better as a result of their care.

One more thing about Professor Brewer: he is a former billionaire. He and a Berkeley graduate student formed the Internet search company Inktomi in nineteen ninety-six. It became profitable. But the dot-com crash and rising competition from Google shook the company and it was sold to Yahoo in two thousand three.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss.

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