Wireless internet gets set for remote parts of Scotland

A British firm is hoping to bring self-sufficient wireless internet access to remote parts of Scotland – and one day parts of rural Africa and Asia.

Glasgow-based Steepest Ascent has developed a ‘WindFi’ basestation powered by solar panels and a small wind turbine, which can broadcast wireless signals up to 3-4km in areas with little or no internet access.

The first of the 5m-high basestations was installed on the Scottish Isle of Bute in March this year as a test operation, and the company now hopes to commercialise the system.

‘Scotland hasn’t even got full 3G [mobile-phone] coverage yet, but there’s a particular problem with the highlands and islands,’ Steepest Ascent design engineer Faisal Darbari told The Engineer.

‘Bute was just to see how things operated in a real environment but the technology is ready to go. The broader market is in rural parts of Africa and Asia.’

The WindFi system uses a point-to-point radio link to receive internet signals from the mainland, up to a distance of 20km away, and then transmits this signal to individual users using ultra-high frequencies (UHF) of between 400 and 700Mhz.

The basestation has a power usage of less than 50W and the radio requires another 50W, while the wind turbine can provide up to 200W and the solar panels up to 80W.

When there is no wind or sunlight, the transmitter can operate for up to four days on battery power.

‘The challenge was modifying existing technology to make it low powered and cost effective,’ said Darbari.

‘A hybrid controller senses the power being generated and intelligently selects which source to use. Battery charging is the main aim when the wind is strong.’

Steepest Ascent hopes to make use of the bandwidth due to be freed up following the switchover from analogue to digital TV.

The company is working with a number of partners, including the BBC and BT, to make use of this ‘white space’ and has secured a test licence from the telecoms regulator Ofcom.

The basestations could also be used to improve mobile-phone reception in areas of poor coverage, allowing users to effectively make calls over the internet.

‘This could be used in rural areas or even at festivals, and is really green because there is no need to plug anything into the land,’ said design engineer Neil Mac Ewen.