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Behind the Scenes: Bringing the Internet to Competitors and Hill Tribes

Behind the Scenes: Bringing the Internet to Competitors and Hill Tribes



If rural Vietnam conjures images of a 2,000-year-old culture with few modern amenities, think again.


Isolated, beautiful, and remote, yes. But as a result of a three-way cooperative project by Intel Corp., Vietnam Data Communication Corp. (VDC) and the United States government, one tiny hamlet, Ta Van, has among the most advanced wireless broadband access on the planet.


Villagers can surf the World Wide Web for free – remarkable in a region of ethnic minorities first documented during China’s Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.). And Intel, which supplied its Wi-Max technology to Ta Van, is providing RacingThePlanet’s Vietnam 2008 race with a similar level of wireless connectivity.


Internet access is key to RacingThePlanet’s business model. “There is no way to organize such a complex and global organization without the Internet,” said Mary K. Gadams, C.E.O. of RacingThePlanet. The Vietnam race will set a new benchmark in terms of offering Internet access to the race, with a video gallery, photos, and breaking news available through the web site.


Viewers around the world can sign up for direct email feeds of breaking news, get a look at the campsite through a live web-cam, and read the competitors’ daily blogs to get in touch with the excitement and challenges they face, as well as to provide vital encouragement.


Behind Intel’s Vietnam Wi-Max project are two Singapore-based expatriates and Intel managers, a soft-spoken German, Bernd Nordhausen, 46, and Oregonian David Fosberg, 34. Nordhausen has been working in the area for two years as the technical architect of the Ta Van project, as well as a larger Wi-Max pilot program in the provincial capital, Lao Cai. Fosberg, Intel’s Southeast Asia regional manager for enterprise sales and emerging markets business, joined him to provide technical support as well as to create a video documentary of the race. Intel has its own team competing – Australian Leighton Phillips and Americans Kim Rich and Tilden Wu. IPSTAR (www.ipstar.com), owned by Thailand-based Shin Stra, provided the satellite technology.


To understand what a technological leap the Intel Wi-Max program represents, consider that Ta Van had only two fixed telephone lines and weak mobile reception prior to the launch of its Wi-Max station in July 2007. “Wi-Max is Wi-Fi on steroids,” said Fosberg: “We wanted to use all the technology that we have to bear, and show that we can do this in real time.”


While volunteers were checking gear and tents in the last few days before competitors arrived in Hanoi, a representative from IPSTAR  was collecting a crated four-wheel drive vehicle from Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport. This was the mobile platform for a satellite antenna that will provide a Wi-Fi hot spot for each campsite, from the 120-kilometer Stage One to the 15-kilometer Stage Five, where the competitors will overnight in Ta Van, a village of roughly 3,000 people spread out over paddy fields and hillsides.


From Intel’s perspective, there are strong parallels between the needs of Vietnamese hill tribes and RacingThePlanet competitors – both are in isolated locations and need technology that is rugged and can withstand extremes of climate and conditions.


“We want to show how fast and simple it is to set up,” Nordhausen said. “We want to demonstrate that it’s not James Bond technology. We put a lot of work into picking the right pieces, but the solution is that it’s simple to set up and maintain – which takes a lot of time and effort.”


Even so, Nordhausen and Fosberg take a bit of Q-like glee in the gadgets they have brought along – laptops so rugged they can be dropped from shoulder height without damage, and handheld video cameras with USB plugs to download directly into computers. They will hand out the five cameras to volunteers and competitors to take video snapshots of the race. The 10 laptops will be available at the main camp-sites, where they will be charged and ready for use by the competitors.


With a 2-Megabyte (MB) downlink and 512-Kilobyte (KB) uplink, the IPSTAR satellite will provide the telecommunications muscle behind the race's Wi-Fi hot spots. Previous RacingThePlanet races relied for their Internet connections on Inmarset satellite phones, with one-tenth the bandwidth of Intel’s Wi-Fi hot spots. These will also be used in Vietnam, but only for telephone communications.






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