Intel installs wireless "WiMax" Internet in Amazon island city

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SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Intel Corp. chairman Craig Barrett traveled to an isolated Amazon River island city last week to launch wireless Internet access with the company's WiMAX technology, using a satellite link to beam bandwidth to a place where even electricity is hard to come by.

Intel's World Ahead Program, which promotes the use of computers in public areas in developing countries, bankrolled the installation of a WiMAX tower and five spots in the city of Parintins where students, teachers and doctors will now have fast Internet connections for the first time.

Parintins, about 1,600 miles north of Brazil's industrial and financial hub of Sao Paulo, is home to more 114,000 people but has no roads linking it to other cities, so the only way to get there is by boat or airplane.

Like many places around Latin America's largest country, Internet connections are limited to spotty and expensive dial-up links often worse than what most Americans had in the mid-1990s when the Internet started to take off in the United States.

One of the biggest challenges in Parintins for the Santa Clara, California-based chip maker was a lack of electrical power at the schools, a hurdle Intel overcame by working with the local government.

"I think we're trying to show if you can do it in a remote city like Parintins then you can do it just about anywhere," Mr. Barrett said in a telephone interview before heading to Brazil.

WiMAX delivers wireless access over long distances and is suited for remote places that don't have an established infrastructure of power lines or telephone poles.

Intel also is eying spots in the Middle East and Africa to set up WiMAX infrastructure, Mr. Barrett said.

"You can bring this capability to anywhere on the face of the earth," he said.

Intel officials declined to specify the investment for getting WiMAX up and running in Parintins, but a team of 50 people spent two months planning and setting up the network and training people to use it. The 330-feet high tower, flown and shipped to Parintins, can supply Internet access in a 31-mile range.

Overall, Intel will spend US$1 billion over the next five years with its World Ahead Program, which was started earlier this year and aims to help close the digital divide between developed and developing nations.

Though the Parintins project doesn't provide free Internet throughout the city, Intel said local or state officials could do that relatively easily if they can come up with the money because the tower was the biggest technological hurdle.

For now, two public schools, a hospital, a community center and the city's university have easy Internet access via antennas fed by the tower.

Sixty computers were provided to the schools and the university, and the Parintins doctors were given cameras and other equipment that will allow them to use "telemedicine" to consult about difficult medical conditions with specialists in faraway cities like Sao Paulo.

Parintins Mayor Frank Bi Garcia said the project "will prepare this generation for the future" by helping to reduce the city's isolation from the rest of the world.


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