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The N4C Project
are many locations in the world that are not within reach, or at least
not within affordable reach, of the optical fibres, copper cables,
radio waves or even satellite links that make up the physical
infrastructure of the world’s networks. In many regions there is
no network access available, for example even access via
satellite is denied to much of the very large Arctic region
(the Arctic circle is over 1800 km from the North Pole).
Currently, being unable to reach this physical infrastructure precludes
a user from accessing any of the Internet’s services. One of
the aims of European Union's ICT Framework Programme is to reduce the
digital divide by extending pervasive computing to as many regions and
people as possible: living in a communications-challenged area
relegates the population to the deprived side of the digital divide.
The Aims of the Project
The Networking for
Communications Challenged Communities () project, which has been funded from
2008 to 2011 under the EC's Framework Programme 7 initiative,
will be looking at ways to extend Internet access to remote regions
that do not have reliable and affordable network access today.
Many of these regions are sparsely populated, spread over very
large areas and with a relatively poor economic base making it unlikely
that conventional access technologies can be economically deployed at
any time in the near future. Combined with the large distances
involved, this means that the 'always on' paradigm of constant
connectivity and essentially synchronous access enjoyed in many urban
areas today will not be available to these areas.
existing movements of people and transport within these areas provide a
wealth of opportuities to carry data, admittedly more slowly and
without constant connectivity. N4C aims to use existing and novel
enabling technologies to spread pervasive computing into communications
challenged communities by creating an 'opportunistic
networking architecture' to exploit these communication
A key role in N4C is played by the emerging Delay and Disruption
Tolerant Networking (DTN) technology.
DTN technology addresses a wide range of technical problems, from
interplanetary applications to terrestrial applications where it is not
possible to reduce latency to the values needed for today’s Internet.
DTN can support asynchronous web surfing, email, file transfer etc. DTN
uses a 'store and forward' paradigm that avoids the need for constant
connectivity and can use different transport protocols in different
parts of the network which is key to expoliting whatever communication
opportunities are available.
N4C is extending DTN on such a way
that it can integrate seamlessly with today's Internet and support
applications that provide capabilities as closely matched as possible
to the familiar applications available in the always-on paradigm.
N4C will also be investigating how wireless networking technology
can be harnessed for use in environmentally sensitive areas with
terrain that cannot utilise line-of-sight connections and where power,
even solar power, is at a premium, especially in winter.
Supporting In-place Cultures and Economies
aims to provide technology that will support the diverse cultures
and ways of life that currently exist in many communications challenged
areas. The project seeks to provide the networking tools that
will allow the economies of these areas to tap into the growth and
wealth being stimulated by the tools of the Internet without
forcing them to conform to the cultural and economic models usually
associated with the existing Internet. This should also help to
slow, and maybe reverse, the depopulation of rural areas that is
continuing at present.
N4C and the FP7 FIRE Concept
The core of the N4C project will be a set of extensive field trials
based in two communications
Two of the partners in the project are based in these areas and involve
people who are economically active in the traditional economies of the
region. The project will be involving real prospective users both
in the specification of the trial applications to be developed and in
the set of extensive and (hopefully) realistic test beds that will
be created. The concept of extensive and ongoing test beds
is fundamental to the FP7 FIRE initiative, and N4C intends that at
least one of the test beds will be maintained after the end of the
project in 2011.
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