Feb. 13, 2001 Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are using the latest solar-powered wireless technology to help a pair of Native American tribes bridge the digital divide. The High Performance Research and Education Network (HPWREN) is overcoming geographical, social and technical barriers to bring high-speed Internet access to the La Jolla and Pala tribes.
In remote San Diego County, HPWREN’s 45Mbps (million bits per second) wireless backbone connects the low-lying San Diego coastline with the county's mountainous eastern region, home of the La Jolla and Pala Native American reservations. This outreach is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of an experimental wireless network that also links UCSD with the Mount Laguna Observatory (operated by San Diego State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), an earthquake-detection site (run by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, part of UCSD), and two large ecological reserves with multiple field stations. UCSD received a $2.3 million NSF award in August 2000 to create, demonstrate and evaluate the prototype wide-area network for research and education.
Connecting the Native American communities posed special challenges for the team led by computer scientist Hans-Werner Braun and geophysicist Frank Vernon of UCSD. Foremost among these is the rugged terrain where the reservations are located - ranging from valleys with elevation of 2,000 feet above sea level to mountain peaks at 5,000 feet. "There are no line-of-sight views of existing microwave towers from the sites," Braun said. "And in the case of La Jolla, we didn’t even have access to electric grid power on the mountain ridge edge of the reservation."
That necessity prompted HPWREN staff to design a system of solar arrays and batteries for beaming digital signals where land-based lines aren’t practical. After first testing the solar setup last fall, the team deployed it in December on Palomar Mountain, which looms above the La Jolla reservation.
La Jolla tribal members worked closely with the HPWREN team to prepare the solar-powered system and antennae that would provide the reservation's learning center with high-speed Internet connectivity. Now young and old alike gather in the La Jolla and Pala learning centers to surf the Internet at lightning speed.
"The UC San Diego collaboration with La Jolla provides an opportunity for our learning center to receive access to technology and capabilities that we otherwise would not have in our remote county area," said Jack Musick, La Jolla tribal chairman. "We look forward to building educational programs that allow children and adults to take advantage of the connectivity."
The project is exciting, Braun said, "because it's an interdisciplinary effort to design a network that -- though experimental -- is robust enough to be relied upon by researchers under even very adverse conditions, including catastrophic earthquakes. HPWREN is developing such a system for geophysicists, astronomers and ecologists, while demonstrating that the same tools can connect under-served educational users at remote locations like the Pala and La Jolla reservations."
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