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Rural Wireless Platform

Providing broadband Internet access in rural areas is a challenge for many countries, including New Zealand. The rolling geography and sparsely populated areas make investment in wired infrastructure hard to recover. Low cost wireless technologies, such as the 802.11 family of protocols, have been successfully used in many situations to solve this problem. However to date there have not been widescale deployments of 802.11 wireless to provide broadband Internet to rural communities. This is partially due to the high level of knowledge that is required to operate a rural wireless network.

The CRCnet project has created a wireless network platform that abstracts away much of this complexity. Using the CRCnet platform the level of technical knowledge required to plan, build and operate a rural wireless network is significantly reduced. It is now possible for communities to build and operate their own broadband wireless networks.

Network Management and Configuration System

The CRCnet Network Management and Configuration system handles many of the details required to operate a rural wireless network. This frees the community to focus on installing hardware. The Configuration System is accessed via a web based interface and requires only a moderate level of networking experience.

The configuration system handles allocating IP addresses and tracking the physical assets used to create the network. Extensive monitoring and alerting based on the performance of the network is also available.

Read more detail on the CRCnet Configuration System >>

Physical Components of the CRCnet Platform

As the project has progressed we have put a great deal of effort into standardising the structure of the physical nodes to improve their reliability while decreasing the levels of expertise and time required to perform installations.

The large majority of active gear in the CRCnet platform is based on Soekris Technologies small form factor biscuit computers. Configured with 64MB of read-only compact flash and 1-3 wireless cards these computers run a custom Linux distribution developed by CRCnet. With extermely low power consumption (< 10W peak) these devices are excellent for use at solar sites. Other active gear such as Proxim QuickBridge and Trango radios are used where higher bandwidth links are required.

The following node configurations form the basis of the CRCnet platform: (click images for larger versions)

Solar Powered Repeater

The CRCnet Solar Repeater has gone through 3 revisions before reaching its present state. Utilising 3 solar panels and a set of gel cell batteries the site provides ample power to run up to two Soekris computers and a high bandwidth radio such as a QuickBridge for several days without charging.

Future revisions of the Solar Repeater may involve a single pole version designed for small deployments.

Powered 'Paddock' Repeater

The CRCnet Paddock Repeater is the most versatile hardware configuration, allowing many different antenna to be installed depending on requirements. The basic configuration involves a Soekris computer inside a waterproof box mounted to a pole. Up to three 802.11 wireless interfaces and one high bandwidth backhaul interface can be supported by this configuration.

A UPS device is often installed to provide a high availability service.

CPE Device (Client Premise Equipment)

The CRCnet CPE device is a small integrated radio device designed for installation on houses and in other situations where a discreet presense is required. Utilising Power over Ethernet technology there is only a single cable required to be run into the house. A Soekris net4526 mounted inside the antenna provides full network management services.

A extension to this device is the CPE Repeater, which consists of the standard CPE device with an additional radio interface connected to an Omni-directional antenna mounted to the top of the case. This can be used to link communities of houses together.

By combining these three basic components the CRCnet platform can be used to satisfy a diverse range of network requirements.
Read about networks built using the CRCnet Platform >>