Village IT Project (PRAGATI) is a classic example of
how new technology can narrow the digital divide. Thanks
to this project the rural communities of Ahmednagar
district in Maharastra are able to compete with their
urban counterparts…wirelessly. by Akhtar Pasha
by National Informatics Centre (NIC), Delhi; the PRAGATI
project aims to connect a hundred villages in Ahmednagar
covering a population of more than 2.5 lakh with a wireless
MAN solution (WMAN). When completed, it will empower
the rural population and improve their quality of life.
The seven lane program will help the villages in establishing
local IT centers, dissemination of information regarding
government schemes, marketing of agricultural products,
healthcare, education, agro processing and economic
Convergent Communications was selected for implementing
the wireless solution as they had executed most of the
NIC's projects in the past. After initial talks with
Pravara Group, NIC and Indian Space Research Organization
(ISRO), the project was kicked off in 1999. It was executed
in two phases. In Phase I, Convergent connected 13 sites
using a WMAN. Institutions were networked and connected
to the Internet using a 64 Kbps VSAT connection. During
Phase II, the wireless solution was extended to six
other remote sitesShirdi, Satral, Kolhar, Rahata,
Babhleshwar and Loni. The remote sites use an 11 Mbps
pipe shared between six locations.
The project is expected to bring a host of benefits
to the farming community. The villagers can communicate
with agricultural experts at Krishi Vigyan Kendra (a
knowledge center for farmers) and gain knowledge on
better agriculture methods and storing and packing their
products. The wireless solution will also be useful
in tele-medicine and keep abreast with new government
Arun Nale, System Administrator, Shirdi Sai Rural Institute,
said, "There was no proper telecom infrastructure.
A leased line was not feasible as most of the electromechanical
exchanges did not support data transmission. Lack of
proper roads created hurdles in transportation of equipment
during Phase I.
In addition to this, there was a hillock in Loni (Lontek)
because of which there was no clear Line of Sight (LOS)
and the RF network required clear LOS.
The institutes like Pharmacy College, ITI and Home Science
Institute were not connected. The wireless RF towers
were installed by Convergent in a record time of three
days at ten locations."
Technically the range of the RF specified by Convergent
was for a 5 km radius. Since this proved insufficient
for connecting faraway towns like Shirdi and Rahata
that were 19 kms from the hub, custom enclosures were
designed to boost the range of the transmitters.
WLAN for WMAN
Chidambara, Consultant-Wireless & Education, Convergent
Communications (India) Pvt. Ltd., said, "The products
which were available that time were typically used in
a WLAN solution. To make it work in a WMAN was a technical
challenge. We developed and manufactured certain products
in-house in Bangalore like the accessoriesantennas,
RF amplifiers, lightning arrestors, power dividers and
weather-proof outdoor housing enclosures. Lucent's Wireless
LAN bridges and wireless NICs were the core products
that were used in the implementation. The reason why
we chose to implement WMAN was because Pravaranagar
does not have basic telephone infrastructure and getting
a leased line was not only difficult during those days
but also expensive. With WMAN in place Pravaranagar
has dedicated 2 Mbps connectivity."
Group consists of Co-op societies, engineering colleges,
sugar factories, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, schools,
banks and medical trusts. Their approach is to 'think
globally and act locally'.
Problem - Providing connectivity to a hundred
villages where there is no basic telephone infrastructure
was the biggest challenge.
Solution - A wireless MAN. Lucent's wireless
LAN Bridges, wireless NIC and Convergent's own products
have been used in the implementation.
Benefits - Villagers can interact with the
Krishi Vigyan Kendra for new developments in agriculture.
Students can acquire knowledge from the Internet
and it will also help them in finding jobs. The
farmers can get an update on various government
schemes. Telemedicine helps bring modern treatment
to the rural interior.
Network for PRDA
on image for larger view
Behind the movement
PRAGATI began four years back. Shri Balasaheb Vikhe
Patil, Minister of Heavy Industries Government of India
and Dr. Y.K.Alagh, M.P & former Minister for Science
& Technology, Government of India, took a personal
interest in the project. They visited ISRO to assess
the possibility of getting their interactive technology
in 1999. Then they had a series of discussions with
then Director General, Dr. N.Seshagiri, of National
Informatics Centre (NIC), Delhi.
final decision to assign the project to NIC was taken
in June 1999. The target date for the completion of
Phase I was set as 15th August 1999 and it took six
weeks to complete this phase.
Building WMAN-Phase I
First, a suitably high locationRural Polytechnic
for Womenwas identified. The VSAT was installed
by the NIC engineers and was connected to a typical
Windows NT setup of Primary Domain Controller (PDC)
and Backup Domain Controller (BDC). During Phase I,
13 sites were networked including schools, professional
colleges, Pravara Medical Trust hospital, Pravara Co-operative
Bank, Krishi Vigyan Kendra and Padmashri Dr. Vitthalrao
Vikhe Patil Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana (sugar factory).
These institutions were then connected to the Intranet
using a 64 Kbps FTDMA VSAT at the Rural Polytechnic
for Women. RF towers at 11 other institutions with clear
line of sight with the main hub were constructed. At
the remote sites 16 Pentium II PCs from Wipro were used.
The wireless network was connected through Avaya Access
Points to a hub and the PDC and BDC were also connected
to the same hub.
this, all the institutions have Internet access (for
browsing and also sending and receiving mail) and can
communicate amongst themselves. Within each institution,
there can be any number of computers connected through
a cable network and all these computers can also access
the Internet and communicate with PCs in other institutions.
The equipment used in phase I are 64 KBPS FTDMA VSAT-
Gilat with Sky surfer accessories, RF Access Point-WavePOINT-II_99UT12206350,
Wireless Cards - 2 Mbps Lucent's Wavelan Cards, 10 Mbps
NICs, and 10 Mbps Hubs.
"Communication has become faster and more efficient.
Extensive computer training at all levels in Marathi
and data input services have been planned to ensure
that the facilities are utilized by the target population,"
says Nale. The test run of the system was taken on August
14th 1999. It went live on Independence Day 1999 and
all centers were declared operational.
In January 2000, the management of Pravara Group decided
to upgrade the 64 Kbps FTDMA VSAT to a 256 Kbps high-speed
SCPC VSAT in order to extend the Internet to six other
remote sites located in Shirdi, Satral, Kolhar, Rahata,
Babhleshwar and Loni. The work began on June 2001. NABARD
sponsored six village IT centers to the tune of Rs 15
Installation of the SCPC VSAT lead to faster communication,
browsing and video-conferencing with other locations.
An IBM Netfinity server is used for proxy and caching
services while an xSeries200 server is used as the mail
server (pravara.ren.nic.in). Other products used in
Phase II areCisco 2600 series router with 16 ASYNC
ports, RF Access Point - Orinoco Outdoor routers, Wireless
Cards - 11 Mbps Lucent's Wavelan Cards, 10/100 Mbps
NICs and 10/100 Mbps Switches.
Benefits of the implementation
The advantages of providing a wireless MAN in a setting
like Pravara for different population segments are many.
Linking all high schools in around 50 villages within
a radius of 10 km lets teachers and staff stay in touch
with the HO of their Education Society. This helps them
introduce modern methods of teaching, including computer-based
learning (virtual school) at convenient timings for
children who have to work during the day. Students from
professional colleges can acquire knowledge using the
Internet and it will help them find new jobs.
Farmers can communicate with the agricultural experts
at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra and learn new farming techniques
as well as better ways of storing and packing their
products for marketing.
Health care professionals at the villages can consult
specialists at the Medical College and Hospital thereby
providing specialized treatment, especially during emergencies,
at people's doorsteps.
Information about government programs for the welfare
of the people can be made available to the people and
they can interact with the concerned government official
right from their village. This will particularly benefit
rural women. The villagers can interact with the sugar
factory as well as with the Pravara Co-operative Bank
saving time in the process.
Going forward, the Pravara group is planning to connect
at least seven more villages using RF and 15 through
dial-up by the end of 2002. The ultimate goal is to
connect 100 villages through PRAGATI.
Pasha can be reached at email@example.com