The computer lab at the Bangladesh Agriculture University in
Mymensingh is little more than a building site.
The only sign of any kind of technology is a tall radio mast on the
roof of this leading agricultural college.
But once the work is completed, the staff and students here will
enjoy fast internet access via a wireless link to the capital, Dhaka,
more than 100 kilometres away.
The university is one in a group of institutions of higher
education due to be hooked up to the net using wireless technology, in
a project funded by the United Nations Development Programme, (UNDP).
Age of information
At the moment the university relies on a modem housed in a cupboard
with wires trailing along the wall to connect to the internet over an
unreliable phone line.
A radio tower provides a wireless internet link
"Without information systems, you are isolated in the world," said
the Vice-Chancellor, Mustafizur Rahman.
"Information is essential to Bangladesh in terms of business and
science. This is the age of information."
The network is intended to do more than just link up the
universities in Bangladesh, allowing them to share information.
The aim is to set up a national wireless network, with the
universities acting as regional internet centres.
The centres would provide low-cost net connections to hospitals,
schools and non-profit groups in rural areas where going online is
"At the moment they rely on a dial-up to Dhaka over an unreliable
landline at a slow speed," said Dr Hakikur Rahman, the project co-ordinator
"With a radio link we can offer speed of up to 64,000 bps using a
series of transmitters that will bounce the signal across the
Out of date?
Creating a national wireless internet network comes at a price. The
five-year project is receiving $1.4m from the UNDP, as well as
additional funding from international donors such as the Department
for International Development in the UK.
It is part of the UNDP's Sustainable Development Network Programme,
which is active in about 50 countries.
Lissner: The technology has moved on
The scheme was conceived in the early 1990s as a way of taking
advantage of wireless technologies to take the internet in developing
But the programme has had mixed success. In countries with no
telecommunications infrastructure, like Bhutan, the scheme has worked
UNDP officials in Bangladesh admit the project has faltered.
"The idea is still valid but the technology has moved on," said the
UNDP representative in Bangladesh, Jorgen Lissner.
"It still has its place, though. The project was an early attempt
to give academic institutions access to journals and other materials
via the internet."
"We do not pretend that this will cover the needs of the next
generation, such as children in secondary and primary school," he
"But you need a nucleus of people with an understanding of this
tool. Eventually it will filter through to schools."
Experts are concerned about who will pay for the running and upkeep
of the national wireless network once the international funds have
"There is an issue over whether the network can be
self-sustainable," said Partha Pratim Sarker of the technology for
development website Bytes For All.
"There is a real need for such a network in Bangladesh. Technology
is rapidly changing so we are always looking for cheaper
technologies," he said.
The backers of the project hope that the wireless network will
eventually be able to pay for itself by offering internet access to
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