IIT-B professor develops project to make Internet accessible in rural India

A project headed by an IIT-Bombay professor, on making Internet cost-effective and easily available in rural areas has made it to the finals of Mozilla ‘Equal Ratings Innovation Challenge’, a contest launched by the software company in October last year. It was chosen from among 98 submissions from 27 countries. The project called Indian Gram Marg Solution is one of the five projects that will compete for the final spot in March this year. Professor Abhay Karandikar who developed the project along with his team of five, has developed an open source low-cost prototype to provide affordable broadband access to Internet in rural communities utilising Television White Space Spectrum. Talking about his project, Professor Karandikar, head of department at IIT Bombay’s Department of Electrical Engineering said, “I have a team of five including two full-time project engineers and three students working with me on this project.

We have been working on this project for the last three years and our main aim is to make Internet cost effective, and available in even remotest parts of India.”

Professor Karandikar’s team works on 5G Wireless Communications specially ‘Frugal’ 5G and Rural Broadband. “A simplified IP-based network architecture with dynamic spectrum sharing and a low cost wireless back haul can set the vision of what we call “Frugal” 5G for connecting the unconnected,” added the professor. The other projects that have made it to the finals include Freemium Mobile Internet (FMI) of Canada, Afri-Fi: Free Public Wi-Fi of South Africa, Free Networks P2P Cooperative of Brazil and Zenzeleni ‘Do it for yourselves’ Networks (ZN) of South Africa. Mozilla, the non-profit organisation behind the open source browser Firefox, launched the ‘Equal Rating Innovation Challenge’ in October 2016 as part of its endeavour to help catalyse new thinking and innovation for providing open Internet access to communities living without it.

It called out to entrepreneurs, designers, researchers and innovators from all over the world to propose creative and scalable ideas that can cultivate digital literacy and provide affordable access to the Internet’s full diversity. It has offered an award of US $250,000 in funding and expert mentorship to bring these solutions to the market.

“The challenge received a total of 98 submissions from 27 countries. The final shortlist was prepared after benchmarking submissions against criteria of compliance with Equal Rating, affordability and accessibility, empathy, technical feasibility, as well as scalability, user experience, differentiation, potential for quick deployment, and team potential,” a statement from Mozilla said.

“Following eight weeks of mentorship for the semi-finalists, on March 9, Mozilla will host a day-long event in New York City on the topic of affordable access and innovation. Speakers and researchers from around the world will provide their valuable insights on the global debate, various initiatives, and the latest approaches to affordable access,” it added. The winners will then be announced at RightsCon on March 29 in Brussels, Belgium.

Active role

Professor Abhay Karandikar also plays an active role in policy consultation for Internet and broadband in India. He played a leadership role in Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI) and currently heads the IIT Bombay Research Park. He and his team is now getting ready to give a presentation for the finals in March and hopes to bring laurels to the country by winning the challenge.