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Google Earth Mash-Up Helps Mesh Mumbai

With a little help from Google Earth, startup LifeStyle Networks is building a wireless mesh network in Mumbai

March 21, 2007

4 Min Read
Google Earth Mash-Up Helps Mesh Mumbai

NEW DELHI, India -- Indian startup network operator LifeStyle Networks Ltd. is building a wireless mesh network in Mumbai in an effort to bring broadband connectivity, and a wide range of services from third party companies, to a city of 18 million people.

And according to LifeStyle's managing director (MD), Abhishek Javeri, Google Earth has played a major role in the network's development and rollout. Here's how:

Javeri, talking to Light Reading here today, says he first got the idea of how a citywide wireless broadband network could be effective after building a home WiFi network about two years ago. "I found I could access my home network across the road on the beach," says Javeri, and that got him wondering about the wider possibilities.

The MD raised an undisclosed amount of money from private backers and Mumbai-based firm Sadhana Nitro Chem, which owns 51 percent of the company. Now his company has installed more than 1,000 wireless radios from mesh system vendor Strix Systems Inc. at 200 nodes in Mumbai, covering about 20 square kilometers, or about 500,000 of Mumbai's population, and plans to have the rest of the city and its suburbs (450 square kilometers and 18 million people) covered in another six months. (See Strix Meshes Mumbai.)

The total cost of rolling out that network will be between 2 billion and 2.5 billion rupees ($46 million to $58 million), says Javeri, who says he is looking at further non-venture capital financing possibilities at present to complete and commercially launch the network, which could happen as soon as July.

Where Google Earth comes into play is in the network planning. Mumbai is a very densely built and populated city, so his team has used the Google mapping service to work out where the radios should be positioned so that the whole city can be covered with a signal that will offer, initially, up to 2-Mbit/s connectivity using unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum.

As the radios have been installed, LifeStyle's team has input the GPS (Geographical Positioning System) coordinates of the network's nodes into the individual radios, which in turn feed data into the Google application to create an online network map for the company to use. By feeding information from the Strix network management software into Google Earth, Javeri says he can see which nodes are live, how those nodes are connected, and even whether a single radio in a network node is operational or not.

He is currently working on getting the real-time Google Earth-based information available on PDAs so that his team does not have to carry laptops everywhere to monitor the network. He is also trying to develop a network monitoring system linked to the Google Earth application that will send a text message alert to the LifeStyle staff's mobile phones if there are any problems with the network.

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Once the network is live later this year, LifeStyle plans to market its own services, such as video surveillance, to Mumbai business using its own Spidigo services brand. But the citywide network will be opened up to third party service providers on a wholesale basis, including multiple niche services and applications, from plain Internet access to IPTV.

Where such high-bandwidth services, such as IPTV, are offered, LifeStyle will add further radios to make the network denser, a move that can increase the wireless bandwidth to 15 Mbit/s, says Javeri, but that will be done on a demand-driven basis.

All Mumbai's residents and businesses need are laptops that either already have embedded 802.11g radios installed, which most new laptops do. For those that don't, a network card can be bought for just 1,500 rupees ($34.50).

Javeri says that with so little broadband connectivity available -- the whole country only has about 2 million DSL customers currently -- and no 3G mobile licenses available to the mobile carriers, there is little in the way of competition.

That's set to change soon, though, as the local incumbent carrier in Mumbai, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) , is investing more heavily in DSL, and 3G licenses could become available to the nation's mobile operators within months. To spur the investment, the Indian government has named 2007 as the Year of Broadband.

With competitive DSL services available for as little as 250 rupees ($5.77) per month in India, Javeri will need to think hard about his pricing strategy. But Javeri, believes he will have a head start in providing reliable broadband access, and he reckons he can get a good return on his network investment from just a small percentage of the potential user base in Mumbai, which is one of India's biggest financial and technology centers.

He's so confident of success that he's already planning a similar network in another Indian city, Ahmedabad, home to more than five million people and the largest city and financial center in the Gujarat region in West India.

He is currently working on the availability of sites, and getting the relevant local permission, and hopes to start building out the network within a few months.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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