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Mongolia Surfs the Net

March 1997

Surplus butter and an NSF-funded research project have created a state-of-the-art Internet connection in Mongolia. The project evolved as the once-secluded country opened its doors for numerous scientific studies including some on the ecology of Mongolia's ancient lakes.

The scientists working there needed an Internet connection, NSF's Steven Goldstein told MSNBC. Goldstein is the international coordinator for NSF's NSFNET Program.

Setting up a network of Internet connections in a place where telephone lines are of inconsistent quality is a tricky proposition. The answer turned out to be a new, spread spectrum wireless modem.

The wireless Internet project is part of the combined efforts of NSF, a private Mongolian Inter-net company called DataCom, and the Soros Foundation, which helps countries of the former Soviet Union develop technology. The project was completed last October when research and academic institutions in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar used the new modems to network their computers.

The institutions are also connected to the Internet node itself, which was the result of an earlier project. In 1994, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent surplus butter to Mongolia where it was sold. DataCom used the money to get a loan for a satellite dish and then established an Internet node.

While developing the radio modems, NSF and others found that the technology can be useful in other settings, such as schools and remote areas.

"Spread spectrum is a good choice for Internet access even here in Boulder," Steve Wulchin told MSNBC. Wulchin is president of Colorado-based FreeWave Technologies, the company that built the modems. In Mongolia, where there is limited infrastructure, radio modems work well. "We use them here," says Wulchin, "because they move data faster than phone lines. There are potential applications in a lot of different countries...highly developed or not."


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