Sri Lanka Plans to Test the Limits of Smart Digital Mesh Boxes – LBO (Lanka Business Online) May 04, 2006

Mr. Lalith Weeratunga at meh inauguration in Mahawilachchiya
Mr. Lalith Weeratunga at meh inauguration in Mahawilachchiya
Mr. Lalith Weeratunga at mesh inauguration in Mahawilachchiya

Sri Lanka plans to test the limits of smart digital mesh boxes to connect 30 rural homes onto the World Wide Web, officials said.

Costing just under 30,000 dollars, this pilot project is initiated by the ICTA – the government’s key IT agency – is due to kick off in July, giving free internet access to children in the village of Mahavilachchiya, 50 kilometeres off Anuradhapura.

ICTA is partnering with Enterprise Technology (Pvt.) Ltd, a local firm, to deploy the project, while non-profit organization Horizon Lanka Institute has chipped in with 30 computers.

Mesh networking consists a series of smart digital devices called routers or ‘Meshboxes’, which use infrared or radio waves, to carry high speed wireless connection over a wide area.

This type of networking is unique, and is currently being used by local financial institutions like banks to transfer data between branches.

Instead of having a central server – which decides how data is passed between computers –the mesh creates a system which can be shared with every computer connected to the network, allowing individual computers to communicate with each other.

It can grow organically and will automatically organize itself.

The ad hoc nature of the mesh makes it easy to start small and expand where necessary, without the complex reprogramming involved with adding to a traditional, top-down network.

If one node were to fail, the network will automatically redirect data through an alternative route.

According to Radley Dissanayake, Program Manager at ICTA – the government’s key IT agency – Mesh is the most suitable architecture to connect rural hamlets.

However, experience shows that this is the most expensive architecture in network environment.

Mahavilachchiya’s geographical location, makes it mandatory to connect household computers through a wireless connection, explains Viranga Jayartne, Network Engineer at Enterprise Technology.

Horizon, which uses a lease line, will act as the main access point for internet connectivity.

But in a similar environment, once can use a powerful broadcasting antenna by making Horizon Lanka as the Hub and use a wireless network, making the network cheaper.

The use of radiowave frequency also requires approval from the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC).

Viranga Jayaratne says they have been waiting for nearly a year for TRCs approval.

The original project is also likely to expand as Horizon Lanka has donated a further 20 computers to Mahavilachchiya.