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Embedded Linux, wireless connects 50 schools

By   |  February 20, 2007

The tuXlab programme this week connected its 50th school laboratory to its growing wireless network in the Western Cape and already has plans to connect another 50 tuXlab schools.

The wireless project, run by Inkululeko Technologies, allows schools to communicate with one another as well as allowing administrators to perform remote support.

The project is being funded by Pick ‘n Pay, with additional support from partners Amobia and Scoop Distribution.

“The network can be scaled for connectivity and we intend allowing them to share a single bandwidth point to ensure cost is kept low,” says Hilton Theunissen of Inkululeko.

“The network usage is free and even though they do not have access to the broader world, they gain exposure to the use of a browser and mail. Then other tools and services could be plugged in, like mailing lists, wikis, educator and learner chat groups, VOIP and IP security surveillance.

“We will also deploy a central content server to allow the schools to get access to some really great content that we will cache for them.”

Theunissen said that he believes this could be a model for the South African E-rate network.

The network connects the schools using Amobia’s backbone of wireless hot spots. Relying on line of sight, the network uses wireless towers that can broadcast a quality signal as far as 15 kilometres. Amobia was chosen because of the combination of their coverage and the fact that they use Linux.

For schools that lie within an eight kilometer range, all that is needed is a flat panel antenna with a router board (about the size of an A3 sheet) mounted on an arm outside the school building and in sight of one of the wireless towers.

For schools that are further away than eight kilometres, a grid antenna is used which uses a very small 18 volt router board. It runs on a customised embedded Linux distribution developed by Amobia that takes up just eight megabytes.

Riaan Bredenkamp, support desk manager at Inkululeko, said that they would like to be able to include the other 20 tuXlab schools, but that it would require a different solution as schools in the Atlantis area and Paarl area fall outside of Amobia’s current footprint.

Bredenkamp says that they are not committed to using only wireless, explaining that they merely chose wireless because it was the most practical solution for their needs. To expand the network they will have to look at other available technologies.

Bredenkamp added that it is difficult to say how long it will take before the project is completed, especially as they have done the easier ones first. At their current rate of about eight schools a week, he estimates that they should finish within about a month and a half.

Anyone interested in assisting in the project, whether it be with funding for the inclusion of the additional 20 schools or just volunteering of services, can give Riaan Bredenkamp a call on 0860 674 357.


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