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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 03:07 GMT 04:07 UK
Wireless web reaches into paradise
Wireless technology is bringing the internet to some of the most beautiful and remote islands in the world, as technology reporter Gareth Mitchell reports.

Wi-fi internet access in the Maldives
Connect to the internet from anywhere on the islands
Our 18-hour journey from London to the Maldives in the Indian Ocean culminates in a thrilling seaplane ride from the main island, Male.

With me are two computer enthusiasts who brought wireless internet access to the island of Mirihi last year.

We pass the tiny island as we approach Rangali, the island they are connecting up this time round.

From the air, it is clear that this is going to be a bigger job. Rangali is made up of two islands, linked together by a footbridge.

At around 800 metres long and 600 metres across, Rangali's main island alone is about twice the size of Mirihi.

Rangali already has internet access via a satellite link, bringing the web to the resort staff's desktops and a handful of PCs for the guests.

Linking islands

Wi-fi technology will extend access to anyone on the island with a wireless card plugged into their laptop or PDA.

"This is not a normal 'plug it in and away you go' kind of job", said tech enthusiast Andy Ambridge as we step onto the beach from the seaplane.

"We have to get the wireless signal across water from the main island to the smaller one and it has to be robust enough for users to get web access whether inside or out."

Andy Ambridge and  Daniel Willberg
This is the second island that Andy and Daniel have wired up
The first task is to set up the main wi-fi antenna that will provide the wireless 'footprint' across the two islands.

For the best coverage, it must be high up and the most promising vantage point is from Rangali's mobile phone mast.

"This mast is a bit of gift", said Andy's colleague, Daniel Willberg. "It's nice and sturdy and should allow us to get our antenna above the line of the palm trees so that signal gets out to both the islands."

With the main antenna set up, the next job is to install repeater antennas around the two islands to fill in holes in the wi-fi footprint.

"In most cases, say, in the office or at home, you just set up one wireless antenna and there's your wi-fi access, just like that", said Mr Ambridge.

"Here it's not quite that easy. Wireless signals are very weak and they get readily absorbed by palm trees, especially when wet. Not only that, but many of the villas have metal roofs and that doesn't help either."

Putting up all the antennas is hard work in the heat. But after three sweaty days, the network is ready to be tested by measuring the signal strength from the smaller island across the footbridge.

"I'm very happy with this, we're getting a cracking signal," said Mr Ambridge.

"It seems to be working well, both around the main island and in the holiday villas right at the far end of the smaller island. In one villa, I even got coverage in the jacuzzi."

Electronic postcards

Under the stars and surrounded by miles of ocean, there is no doubt that this is truly remote wireless web access.

Testing the signal from the wireless transmitter
The signal from the wireless transmitter was strong
The resort's technology manager, Lavanga Jayakody, said that people who visited the island to get away from it all would appreciate the ability to go online.

"We're cut off from the rest of the world here, postal mail takes weeks to get to its destination," he explained.

"With this, you can send an electronic postcard to your friends and family in seconds."

With the resort booking system now available via wireless, there are plans to make checking visitors in and out more portable.

Instead of guests hanging around in reception when they arrive, staff with PDAs could check them in as they hop off the seaplane.

It all means that visitors get to the beach that much quicker. Once they are there, only time will tell whether they really will be reaching for the laptop alongside the sun cream and the snorkel.

You can hear Gareth Mitchell's report from the Maldives on the BBC World Service programme, Go Digital.

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