Intel experimenting with low-cost long-haul WLAN

As part of a cooperative research project with the University of California at Berkeley, Intel has begun demonstrating a new spin on long-haul wireless networking. Rather than relying on cellular technology or new designs such as WiMax, the researchers have turned their efforts towards maximizing the range of off-the-shelf Wi-Fi (802.11) using some of the tricks hobbyists toyed with shortly after the technology became popular.

With only slight software modifications, and special-purpose directional antennas, the researchers on the Rural Communications Platform (RCP) project have attained broadband-class speeds in a 10 km test. To extend the range, RCP specifies a network of point-to-point linked towers which could be set up in remote rural villages.

The system is targeted at developing nations which lack the resources to deploy large-scale WiMax or cellular networks in remote areas. RCP researchers have estimated that a tower designed as a receiver/repeater in one of its networks could be built for less than 500, a small fraction of the cost of a conventional long-haul wireless installation. To keep the somewhat finicky directional signals correctly aligned between towers, the researchers are also developing semi-automated "steerable antennas", with the goal of aiding local network maintainers.