Pilot Project Demonstrates Transportable Internet Satellite System to Ohio Communities

September 15, 2002

The Ohio State University, OARnet and ITEC-Ohio, have partnered with the American Distance Education Consortium, to design and construct a trailer-mounted Transportable Satellite Internet System (TSIS) for developing advanced satellite Internet technology. This project is partly supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, and the Ohio Technology Action Fund (through the Ohio Department of Development). These institutions were selected to develop this system because of their combined expertise in wireless and satellite technology, radio frequency, Internet and telecommunications research. ITEC-Ohio is a division of OARnet; OARnet is a division of the Ohio Supercomputer Center, a technology initiative of the Ohio Board of Regents.

The TSIS will make its Ohio debut at the OSU Farm Science Review Sept. 17 – 19, at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center near London, Ohio. The Center has 2,100 acres dedicated to the Farm Science Review and Ohio State’s agricultural demonstrational and research operations. The TSIS will be the sole provider of Internet connectivity at the Farm Science Review. The OSU Farm Science Review is a three-day outdoor agricultural trade show featuring a variety of educational displays, government agencies, equipment makers, and other related activities. There are also commercial exhibits for everything from tractors to financial services. This year OSU expects nearly 600 commercial exhibitors representing about 4,000 equipment lines.

The development of the initial TSIS was a “proof of concept” project to and test an inexpensive, easy to use, mobile Internet satellite dish. The system is designed so that it can be built using easily obtainable parts at an affordable price. The original prototype acts as a laboratory to study alternative designs, components, operational characteristics and operator requirements, and will use a wide variety of applications that will contribute to further refinement of the design. It is hoped that this pilot project will generate sufficient interest that will encourage local, underserved communities to consider implementing a Transportable or Stationary Satellite Internet System of their own.

On a cost-recovery basis, the partnership will make the TSIS available to state agencies, community-based organizations, alliances, school districts and higher education institutions to create value-added research, convey specialized knowledge, and provide technology services.

ITEC-Ohio Director Pankaj Shah said that although this is not the first Internet Satellite System to be built, the key differences are that this is affordable, easy to transport, and easy to deploy.

“Our goal was to design a system that can be fabricated inexpensively, that can be easily taken into remote areas, and with minimal training can be operated by public school teachers, librarians, and other non-technical people. We are taking this satellite dish into remote and underserved communities so we can show them the potential for flexible broadband Internet connectivity, as well as to demystify wireless technology for people.” Shah said.

Businesses and organizations need worldwide broadband network access no matter how geographically remote their physical site may be. As bandwidth needs increase rapidly, educational and research institutions, as well as businesses and corporations will require far-reaching network solutions that are flexible, scalable, secure, and readily available. Organizations everywhere rely on their networks more than ever, yet the lack of terrestrial network infrastructure still exists, limiting the reach to many essential locations.

The TSIS offers a ubiquitous solution for broadband special event connections to any location across the continent. Businesses and organizations will also find that this seamless resource, providing high-speed Internet access directly to the end-user, lowers effective latency and supports high-speed Web based applications to access databases, e-mail services, the public Internet, file sharing, collaborative applications, access to training, and educational materials.

“We’re doing this to provide connectivity for underserved and typically rural populations that don’t have any sort of connectivity and perhaps lack the financial resources for terrestrial connectivity. We hope to be able to help these communities obtain affordable Internet satellite connectivity for themselves by exposing them to the Satellite and Wireless options available today,” Shah said.

The TSIS has a variety of economic implications for Ohio, particularly in reducing the cost of last-mile connectivity for education, research, local governments, community events, medical consultation, virtual laboratories, streaming video, emergency management, law enforcement, disaster recovery, and much more. It can also act as a redundant link for critical operations for an organization.

A major goal of the TSIS is to extend educational opportunities to underserved areas, especially to the adult learning populations throughout rural Ohio. Rather than commuting to major cities for classes and coursework, students can receive distance education courses through their local libraries, schools, or community centers.

In addition to the technological implications, the project has major outreach potential for the OSU Extension Services, according to Alan Escovitz, Director for External Affairs in the OSU Office of the CIO. “All this is in step with the University’s broad mission of narrowing the digital divide and transitioning the state into the new knowledge economy,” said Escovitz, a member of the TSIS research team.

“The transportable dish will be a core resource for the University’s distance education and outreach plan, and will bridge the rich resources of our academic community through high-quality Internet service to Ohio’s rural and remote areas, including 29 counties within the Appalachian region. Ohio State faculty could even interact with and teach children in a small school in Appalachia,” Escovitz said.

The goal is clear, to expand learning opportunities for Ohioans. Escovitz says the possible uses of such technology are endless. “Picture a faculty member and research team collecting data at a remote site. With the transportable dish, that data could be sent back to a lab, immediately analyzed and transmitted back to the researchers in the field. Or an OSU professor could teach a class from the field while, through use of the dish, students in the classroom interact with him through real-time interactive videoconferencing,” Escovitz said.

According to Dr. Robert Dixon, Chief Research Engineer for the OSU Office of the CIO and OARnet, the satellite trailer is remarkably versatile. “Because it can run independently of commercial electricity, using its own internal batteries and generator, and it can provide both wired and wireless Internet connectivity to any building or event. It can penetrate the walls of a building and provide wireless connectivity to many computers located inside. It provides remote telephone service. It is small and light so it can be pushed by hand to locations where towing vehicles cannot go,” Dixon said. Dixon said the TSIS is being demonstrated locally and nationally at a variety of conferences and symposia throughout the fall.


Dan Downing

OARnet Communications Manager

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