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Saudi Uni. offers low-cost green internet

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By Abraham Adekunle

The new energy-efficient service to bridge internet access gap.

Saudi-based university, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has announced that it is developing a new, energy-efficient, high-speed internet system that is expected to bridge the web access gap in Nigeria. This is coming after the penetration of fiber broadband connection in Nigeria. Fiber broadband is a kind of high-speed internet connection that uses fiber-optic technology to transmit data from telephone exchange to users. These cables are much faster in transferring data than standard copper wires. According to data, it is 50 times faster than any radio connectivity used by GSM operators.

Fiber optic technology is still in the works in Nigeria. Even despite that it is not available as a mass market service, it is expected to be much cheaper in the long run. Stakeholders in the industry have said that it would take years of investments to make any appreciable impact in its use and impact. What this reveals is that even with the new technology being introduced to the country, data is still very much expensive and internet speed still leaves much to be desired.

New tech delivers similar connectivity and access with less cost.

The current fiber network infrastructure in Nigeria is energy-intensive and often impractical. In poorer or lower-population density regions, its cost of deployment is astronomical and it contributes greatly to carbon emissions, according to recent studies. However, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at KAUST, Mohammed-Slim Alouini, who is spearheading the project, explained that the technology uses a combination of space-based and aerial networks with the aim to deliver quality web access that is similar to what fiber broadband delivers, but at an affordable cost.

Further, he stated that the solutions being developed at the university supports global coverage without relying on a costly, ground-based infrastructure. He mentioned that Nigeria has the largest offline population in Africa, even though access to internet has increased rapidly in recent years. An estimated 47 percent of the population cannot easily access the internet, and lack of robust web infrastructure compounds existing social and economic problems in the health and education sectors of the country.

The professor explains the modus operandi of the tech.

Prof. Alouini said, “Satellite and cellular networks have evolved over the last few decades with a silo mentality, and this is one of the reasons behind the connectivity divide.” The project, thus, involves the deployment of three-dimensional integrated networks that encompass terrestrial, airborne and satellite communications, which are operating simultaneously over different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. It leverages terrestrial base stations, TV towers, drones, balloons, stratospheric high-altitude platforms and satellites. The professor revealed that the system’s structure and resource allocations will be adapted based on population density and the required service quality.

Additionally, the technology could be made sustainable by using environmentally friendly transceivers and routers that harvest energy from renewable sources. He said that beyond connecting the unconnected, the developed solutions would also be used to enable the internet of things in remote and hard to reach areas. This would provide smart exploration and monitoring of Nigeria’s natural resources as well as helping in better food production and supply-chain management solutions. Prof. Alouini is a Fellow of African Academy of Science.

Research will focus on remote areas to bridge the gap.

Given that the aim of introducing this technology to Nigeria is to help connect the unconnected, the professor said that the ongoing research is focused on remote, low-income areas and will help contribute to developing a digitally inclusive and greener future for Nigeria and other countries with similar disconnection issues. He was optimistic that the research will reduce the inequalities between the two digital divides in the areas of social, educational, health and economic domains, and also help create new business and economic opportunities.

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