Waikato University's computer science department hopes to have a Wi-Fi wireless data, voice and video service operating at a rural Waikato school by the start of the second school term.
Wi-Fi, otherwise known as IEEE 802.11b, is a wireless internet standard with a theoretical speed of 11Mbit/s.
Normally, its range is approximately 50m but the project is using high gain antennae to focus the service 13km in one direction, southwest of the university, to the Waikato town of Ngahinapouri.
"There isn't any more radio energy - it's just all going in one direction," project co-ordinator Murray Pearson says.
The point-to-point nature of the project, as opposed to the mainly point-to-multi-point nature of most Wi-Fi applications, enables such distances to be covered, Pearson says.
The antennae are parabolic in shape and Pearson describes them as "like a fridge rack that's been sat on."
Pearson says internet connections via the link are viable now and the only barrier to the school using the technology for internet access is finding an appropriate ISP.
"I could go to the school connect to the internet, but we have to arrange things with an ISP so that the school can do it."
A second school, Te Pahu, is also being geared up for the service, though its access is complicated by the fact it is in a dip and doesn’t have line-of-sight links with a repeater at Pearson's house in Ngahinapouri.
"We're working on a repeater on [local peak] Mt Pirongia, 12km from my house."
The repeater will receive the wireless stream from Pearson's house and send it 4km northeast to Te Pahu school. The repeater on the mountainside is accessible only by four-wheel drive and Pearson says progress on getting it functional "has been hampered by bad weather". It will be solar-powered, with batteries for backup.
The project, named CRCnet (Connecting Remote Communities Network), has involved staff and students of the department and an application has been made for government funding.
When Pearson spoke to Computerworld last week, he was expecting a decision on the funding "any day now".
Although the education sector is the first that will utilise the service, other possible uses include iwi meetings by participants at separate marae and videoconferencing from home for farmers.
While the theoretical maximum speed is 11Mbit/s, the current fastest data transfer time on the link is 4.5Mbit/s, Pearson says.
Some of the hardware used for the service was purpose-bought and other items are ex-computer science department gear, he says.