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11/28/2005
02:43 PM
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Wi-Fi, On A $300-A-Month Salary

The Balkan country of Macedonia is planning a wireless mesh network that will cover 1,000 square miles so that the country's more than 2 million residents can get online.

Macedonia has rugged mountain terrain, remote villages without electricity, and an average monthly salary of about $300, and within a year--if all goes well--will have Wi-Fi access for most citizens. The Balkan country is planning a wireless mesh network that will cover 1,000 square miles so that the country's more than 2 million residents (well, those who have access to a computer and electricity) can get online.

Wireless Internet is definitely the must-have accessory these days for U.S. cities, and now apparently whole countries. While it's not likely to cure all the economic-development, public-safety, and education woes planners face, the Macedonian example will have one clear benefit for the rest of us. Given the scale of the deployment and the difficult terrain it's trying to cover, it will be a good test of wireless mesh network technology.

Macedonian government officials tapped a local provider, On.Net, for the Internet service, and it turned to U.S.-based Strix Systems Inc. to deploy the wireless infrastructure. Wi-Fi already is in the capital of Skopje and will be deployed in 11 other cities.

On.Net CEO Predrag Cemerikic estimates that 500 Strix base stations, which are called nodes, will be mounted on building rooftops, power poles, and light posts, and service will reach about 90% of the population.

Macedonia's residents will be able to get online at speeds up to 1 Mbps, though at $12 a month, it still may be out of the reach of some people. Only 5% to 10% of Macedonia's population uses the Net, Cemerikic says.

Strix's base stations, which can support up to six radios, won't become outdated as technology changes, says Cyrus Irani, VP of advanced development and strategy at Strix. With the next-generation technology known as WiMax likely to emerge in the next few years, the system can be upgraded to accommodate the change.

This story was modified on Nov. 29 to correct the name of On.Net.

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