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Researchers Bring Web Access to Developing Regions

By Computerworld Canada

July 20, 2009

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University of Waterloo researchers have released a beta version of Vlink, an open source technology that is designed to provide robust and inexpensive Web access to people in developing regions. The researchers say affordable Web access is needed for email, healthcare, and information on agricultural best practices. "Without access to this information, farmers, doctors, students are left behind," says University of Waterloo professor Srinivasan Keshav.

The biggest hurdles to Internet access in developing areas are keeping Internet access both inexpensive and robust. Vlink is capable of working where other forms of communication are unreliable or even non-existent, Keshav says. If a phone line goes down, Vlink attempts to retry the data transmission so a connection can be made once the line is reconnected. If no communication links are available, emails can be exchanged using USB memory sticks that store encrypted packets, with the USB memory sticks being physically transported between people with PCs. Keshav says Vlink also provides developing areas with the ability to accept outsourced jobs such as data entry, which could significantly improve the quality of living.

"Vlink is fantastic because it provides a way to connect rural outposts without wired or wireless infrastructure," says Kentaro Toyama, principal researcher with Microsoft Research in India, which provided funding for the project. "It effectively provides a high-bandwidth, if high-latency, connection, that is matched to the environment at hand."

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