Mozilla, a global non-profit organization had organised an ‘Equal Rating Innovation Challenge’ wherein it had called for initiatives to make affordable Internet available to all. IIT Bombay’s project ‘Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband’ was declared as the winner out of the best five shortlisted entries based on a online community voting.
Gram Marg, which roughly translates as “roadmap” in Hindi, seeks to bring 640,000 villages in rural India online. Spearheaded by Indian Institute of Technology Bombay professor Prof. Abhay Karandikar, Dean (Faculty Affairs) and Institute Chair Professor of Electrical Engineering Dr. Sarbani Banerjee Belur, a Senior Project Research Scientist, the project reinforces the remarkable progress such communities could achieve once they have access to information pertaining to education, health and the political process.
In its bid to both bridge the digital divide and empower unconnected communities, the Gram Marg team has created an ingenious and “indigenous” technology that utilizes unused white space on the TV spectrum to backhaul data from village wifi clusters to provide broadband access (frugal 5G). The team of academics and field workers leverages what people already have in their homes, and creates rugged receivers and transmitters to connect villages in even the most difficult terrains. The solution has been rolled out in 25 villages on a pilot basis so far.
Prof. Karandikar said, “We will continue to improve our technology solution to make it more efficient. We are also working on a sustainable business model that can enable local village entrepreneurs to deploy and manage access networks. We believe that a decentralized and sustainable model is the key to the success of a technology solution for connecting the unconnected. We are also evaluating an applications and services model to enable local village populations to reap the full benefits of broadband access. We hope that our model can be aligned with our Prime Minister's vision of ‘Broadband for all’ under the government's Digital India program,” he added.
The project gained a lot of popularity amongst the audience.The major attraction for the crowd was the fact that they were able to bring the cost of the technology for delivering broadband over the TV White Space spectrum down to a fraction of the cost. This spectrum allows delivery of broadband without line of sight connectivity. As a result, it is more useful across hilly terrain, and can help bring cheaper Internet access to those areas. The technology will be open source, which means that it will be accessible to anyone anywhere.”