DOST to roll out ‘offline Internet’ in remote areas in 2016

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The ICT Office of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) announced this week that it intends to implement in 2016 the ?Offline Internet for Remote Areas? (OIRA) service as a component of the “Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places? of the government.

Sen. Ralph Recto switches  on the Free Wi-Fi Internet Access Project at the NSTW with top DOST officials
Sen. Ralph Recto switches on the Free Wi-Fi Internet Access Project at the NSTW with top DOST officials

The free WiFi project was launched by the ICT Office last July during the 2015 National Science Technology Week (NSTW) at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. The initiative has an initial budget of P1.4 billion while P1.6 billion has been earmarked by Malacanang for the program’s implementation next year.

In a “request for information” posted at its website, the ICT Office said the OIRA could serve as a “one-way delivery service” since it could take several years for the Free Wi-Fi Project to reach all parts of the country, considering the number of potential beneficiaries and the challenging geography of the country.

“The idea behind OIARA is that much of the Internet is actually unchanging just like the words and pictures in a book, or gradually changing as we experience in our daily newspapers. Such information does not actually require bi-directional communication but merely an accessible ‘bookshelf or newsstand’. Considering that having such information accessible would benefit the people in the remote sites, it is our intention to establish a one-way delivery service to digital ?bookshelves and newsstands? which is the OIRA Service,” said ICT Office executive director Louis Casambre.

Casambre said the OIRA Service is envisioned as using a geostationary broadcast satellite covering the entirety of the Philippines with low-cost low-power caching servers fitted with appropriate satellite receivers and Wi-Fi access points to receive the broadcast signal and provide user access via Wi-Fi that would serve as the ?bookshelves and newsstands?.

“This concept is not new, and at least one similar service is already being offered in the United States, and others are on their way. DOST?s Starbooks project is another example. Moreover, with the advances in information and communications technologies and the continual drop in costs, the DOST ICT Office believes that an affordable massively scalable solution can be found,” Casambre explained.

He said the ICT office issued Request-For-Information (RFI) to seek information from industry, academe and civil society organizations for solutions in whole or in part to implement OIRA.

Casambre said the government is considering a technology capable of the following:

1. Content shall be reference and/or sourced from the master data cache of the Free Wi-Fi project?s System Management and Access (SMA) Service, as the content of the master cache may be assumed to be representative of what the general public uses most, and of course other public service websites.

2. The slave caches of the SMA may also receive the broadcasted data to reduce backhaul traffic carried by the various connectivity services (i.e. IPTD, IPTM, and IPTS services) that could contribute to better overall service for online users at already connected sites.

3. The system should use open standards, not dissimilar from the Free-To-Air TV broadcast system, that will use commonly available systems, and allow anyone to design and build compatible receivers. New standards are not ruled out.

4. Receivers should use commoditized equipment/sub-systems/components such as those used by terrestrial and satellite digital broadcast, personal computing, and mobile phone industries. Portable, low power and possibly solar powered receivers should be feasible.

5. Content should be made accessible from the receivers through standard Wi-Fi connectivity, using a regular web browser, and the offline nature of this service should be essentially transparent to the user.

With respect to the financial aspects, the ICT Office is considering the following:

1. The data broadcast component would be implemented by the Free Wi-Fi project as a managed service provided by a telecommunications franchise holder, preferably using domestic earth station facilities to negate the necessity of international backhaul and its attendant costs, and to promote local residency of content.

2. Receivers shall be designed and manufactured by the PH electronics industry as an appliance for sale or for lease to the general public, government, and the private sector.

“As we hope to begin procurement within 2015, we request that you reply on or before October 16 by e-mail to submit.rfi@icto.dost.gov.ph. Furthermore, to ensure we do receive your valued reply, please also FAX a copy to +632 426-1525,” the agency said.

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