Case study: E-governance
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
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.
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
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
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
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 links with high capacity.
Thanks to VINE, each repeater station requires only one radio with two antennae.
One faces forward and the other backward, instead of two radios with competing
This effectively reduces the number of radios to half. Simultaneously, the throughput
of radios in VINE is high at 8 Mbps. This kind of network topology allows easy
scalability. If the bandwidth requirement doubles to 16 Mbps one can simply
add another pair of radios to the existing infrastructure.
The radios at the POPs can also talk to other radios in the adjoining backbones
creating a mesh architecture, building redundancy into the system in the process.
WipLL in the access network
All the 630 Akshaya centers will hook up to 22 POPs using WipLL radio stations.
WipLL is based on a Multipoint Microwave Distribution System (MMDS) used for
Internet access. WipLL equipment from Airspan Networks (a UK-based company)
has been used for this project.
Sectoral antennae that cover 90-degree sectors are being used at the base station.
Four such antennae offer complete 360-degree coverage. The transmission has
a capacity of 4 Mbps although the mandated requirement is 16 Kbps to 64 Kbps.
This bandwidth is being used to provide services like e-governance, voice, intranet,
and video for e-learning.
A NOC will soon be deployed at the Malappuram Kinfra park. It will be responsible
for the management of bandwidth, the wireless infrastructure, gateway routers,
Lt. Col. H.S. Bedi, VSM, Managing Director, Tulip IT Services Ltd said, "The
NOC is in the planning stage and we expect it to be ready by March 2004. We
are planning to use Sun Servers at the NOC."
VoIP the killer app
25 percent of Kerala's population lives abroad. This creates the need for cheap
and reliable communication. This makes VoIP a killer application. Akshaya centers
are in the process of being repositioned as a combination of Internet centers
and VoIP booths. The network provides telephony to government offices located
in remote areas and allows video streaming for training programs.
After the full rollout
After the complete rollout in March 2004, the Akshaya project will let the state
government provide a range of e-governance and utility services to citizens.
Sundararajan said, "The project will allow citizens to use a service called
'Friends'. This is a single window distribution point for 35 services like payment
of electricity bills, tax bills, and university fees. Around one million Keralites
will access these services. Further, the state plans to use this wireless infrastructure
for connecting all police stations, land records, the state forest department,
and health centers."
On the cards are services like online rural banking, online technology resource
centers, e-enabled education centers, call centers, assisted health care, and
Sundararajan concludes, "We have created the information highway and would
like to have participation from the private sector to drive this initiative
Akhtar Pasha can be reached at email@example.com
WipLL for all
WipLL is a high capacity point-to-multipoint wireless
wide area networking system that utilizes IP technology, with an operating
range in excess of 10 Km Line Of Sight (LOS) and several kilometers Non
Line of Sight (NLOS).
It carries voice, video, and data services on a
single platform over the metropolitan area. It supports QoS and Bandwidth
on Demand (BoD).
It features an IP-based air interface and industry
standard interfaces. It is modular in design and interworks easily with
existing IP LAN and WAN technologies. Its modular design and many integrated
features ensure that the entry cost is low and the incremental costs are
At the same time it allows the system to scale
to support more than 3000 remote sites from a single base station. WipLL
allows the construction of high capacity broadband wireless access networks,
taking IP services to remote users.
- Minimizes initial investment, maximizes return, and has low incremental
- IP-based air interface which supports high-speed data, VoIP and video
services for enterprise users
- Modular architecture with flexible deployment features
- 4 Mbps per sector, up to 24 sectors per Base Station
- Compact, integrated design
- Advanced QoS features
- Simultaneous support of Router and PPPoE functionality
- Sophisticated bandwidth management features
- Supports 802.1Q/p and VPNs
- Easy install, indoor subscriber terminals
- Auto-seek and connect feature for faster deployment of customer terminal
The state government of Kerala has deployed a project
called 'Akshaya'. The aim of the project is to offer e-governance and
utility services to citizens of the state. The pilot phase in Malappuram
is the largest rural wireless network in the country.
Wiring up the entire Malappuram district was a daunting
task as the district had terrain with steep slopes and thick vegetation
that impedes RF.
Tulip IT Services Ltd set up a wireless infrastructure
that uses hybrid technologyVINE in the backhaul and WipLL for the
access networkto connect 630 Akshaya centers with the fiber backbone.
The wireless network delivers a host of services like
utility bill payment, e-learning centers, call centers, e-governance initiatives,
and the use of VoIP for making long distance calls.
A little bit of VINE
Wi-LAN's patented wireless VINE technology is a
new networking technology that overcomes the non line-of-sight obstacles
and minimizes initial up-front costs of developing networks. VINE technology
focuses on overcoming the line-of-sight issues imposed by challenging
As your network grows, any node can be promoted
to become a repeater. The only requirement for a new node to get attached
is to have RF connectivity to any node already on the network. This is
a deployment strategy called anypoint-to-multipoint, since any node already
in the network can become the center of a point-to-multipoint branch.
Hard-to-reach locations that are obstructed can easily
be reached once the VINE spreads into that neighborhood.