Monday, 20 October 2008

Worldwide fibre-optic internet is real

Original Article

A sample of fibre optic cable is on display at the CommunicAsia 2008 exhibition in Singapore in June. Roslan Rahman / AFP
Expect the worldwide roll out of fibre-optic internet systems to continue despite the global financial storm, industry insiders say.

Bringing fibre-optic cables directly to every home and office requires an enormous capital investment, something that is increasingly hard to come by in the current economic environment. But as a piece of core infrastructure that will remain relevant for upwards of 30 years, it is a safe bet in tricky times, many delegates at an industry conference in Dubai said this week.

“Yes, there’s a real financial, emotional situation going on right now,” said Joeri Van Bogaert, the president of the European Fibre to the Home (FTTH) Council, an industry body. “But will it effect the deployment of this new technology? No.”

In the UAE, Etisalat and du are rolling out fibre-optic internet connections, with Etisalat saying its national fibre network already reaches 300,000 homes.

“We have planned that this technology will be available to all homes within three years,” said Ahmed Abdul Karim Julfar, the chief operations officer at Etisalat. “Each home will have its own fibre cable that allows very high-speed internet, along with fixed-line services and cable TV.”

While companies from around the world slow or cancel new investments in the face of escalating financing costs and risk-averse lenders, the telecommunications industry sees opportunity. New fundamental infrastructure that will be central to the future of the internet must be built, they say, with steady, reliable returns guaranteed.

“I haven’t seen any indication of any slowing down at this point,” said Floyd Wagoner, a director of the home and networks mobility division of Motorola. “This is evolutionary technology, and we’re at the cusp here – the service demand curve will continue to grow. Staying ahead of that curve is the ultimate goal.”

Mr Wagoner said the demand for high bandwidth internet services like streaming online television – a key factor spurring the roll-out of optic fibre – would stay solid during this financial crisis, and future ones.

“What you usually see is that people won’t get rid of home entertainment services like their internet and television,” he said. “They might stop going out to dinner as much, or cancel a vacation, but in our experience they are much less inclined to give up their internet or TV.”

Even with most capital markets contracting, the German bank West LB is actively searching for opportunities to invest in fibre-optic deployments, according to Mr Bogaert. As the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, the bank was a lead financer of the US$1.1 billion (Dh4.04bn)) FLAG Pacific-1 undersea communications system linking North America with East Asia.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Cheap, Off-Grid Cooling

Original Article

A hybrid refrigerator will bring efficient, cheap cooling to India.
By Prachi Patel-Predd
MIT Technology Review

Chilling in the sun: A conceptual illustration of a solar-powered refrigeration system that could be used in off-grid villages in India. Promethean, based in Cambridge, MA, plans to make the system efficient by combining thermoelectric- and compressor-based cooling.
Credit: Promethean Power Systems

A startup based in Cambridge, MA, has developed a new solar-powered refrigeration system for food storage in Indian villages that are off the grid. Promethean Power Systems' design is a hybrid of conventional compressor-based refrigeration and thermoelectric materials--semiconductors that convert electricity into cooling and vice versa.

The chilling units will be cheaper than what is currently used in Indian villages, most of which are off the grid. In such villages, food distributors and processors store raw food products in traditional compressor-based cooling units that run on diesel generators. These cost about $12,000, says the company's cofounder Sorin Grama. And that cost, says Grama, doesn't include the escalating cost of diesel needed to run the units. During a month spent in India a year ago, Grama and his cofounder, Sam White, identified a crucial niche. "Customers kept asking for a cooling system that has low maintenance and operation cost," White says.

Grama says that even including the expense of the photovoltaic (PV) panels, his design would cost about the same as or slightly less than the diesel-powered refrigeration units. More important, it would have no fuel costs, and almost no maintenance costs. According to the company's initial calculations, using a compressor combined with thermoelectric modules would use 20 percent less power to generate the same cooling as a compressor alone.

The design uses off-the-shelf components: silicon PV panels, thermoelectric modules, and a compressor-based refrigeration unit. The company's control system directs the two cooling components to work together so that they squeeze as much juice out of the solar panels as possible, Grama explains. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the amount of sunlight is low, the solar panels won't generate enough power to run the compressor. But there will be enough solar power to run the thermoelectric modules, which would generate cooling until the compressor kicks in. Around midday, when the solar panels are working full throttle, the thermoelectric modules will use the extra juice that the compressor doesn't need to provide additional cooling.

Since Promethean was founded in 2007, it has built a laboratory-scale 60-liter chiller. Last week, the company secured funding with which it plans to build a 500-liter prototype that it hopes to test in India in 2009.