N4C Networking for Communications Challenged Communities Architecture, Test Beds and Innovative Alliances
EU Framework Programme 7
Grant no. 223994

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Communications Challenged?

There 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 N4C Project

The Networking for Communications Challenged Communities (N4C) 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.

However, 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 opportunities.  

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

N4C 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 challenged areas. 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.
The Kočevje Region of Slovenia
The Laponia region in
Northern Sweden

Framework Programme 7 Contact the N4C Team

Copyright (C) N4C Consortium, 2008.