Gandalf is not only a character from J. R. R. Tolkien's universe. It is also the acronym of a European networking project, which stands for "Gbit/s Access Network using remote Delivery opticAL Feeder." Its goal is to carry data at speeds up to a thousand times faster than with existing DSL technology and a hundred times faster than Wi-Fi networks. According to IST Results, Gandalf "uses an optical feeder that allows data to be sent over cable in a format that also allows it to be transmitted over wireless networks." And as it should be cheap to implement, we should soon have bandwidths up to a gigabit per second in our homes for the same price we pay today for a few megabits per second.
Here is the introduction from IST Results.
The [Gandalf] technology also allows data to flow seamlessly over both wireless and fixed-line communications, making the project the only initiative in the world to progress so far in both areas.
"Why not use the same technology for both fixed-line and wireless? That was the fundamental question that drove the project," explains GANDALF coordinator Javier Martí at the Technical University of Valencia in Spain. "We also saw the need to address the additional challenge of obtaining high rates of data transfer -- exceeding 1 gigabit per second -- over both cable and radio."
If this is that simple, why hasn't be implemented before? In other words, how does Gandalf work?
The project partners developed a technique using an optical feeder that allows data to be sent over cable in a format that also allows it to be transmitted over wireless networks. The duality of the format ensures that the access nodes and the modems in the homes or offices of end users are all the same regardless of whether they are receiving data via cable, radio or both.
Below is a diagram showing the Gandalf system in action, with its hybrid fibre-fed wireline/wireless access networks (Credit: Gandalf project).
Not only Gandalf will be fast and working over both fixed-line and wireless networks, it also will be cheap to implement.
"The major advantage for operators is that the cost of implementing GANDALF is minimal," Martí says. "We estimate that it would not cost more than say 50,000 or 60,000 euros to implement it across an entire network, which is peanuts for operators."
Most significantly perhaps, the system would give operators access to more clients without having to undergo costly public works projects to lay new fibre optic cable. Existing cable could be used to relay data to the closest access node to clients’ homes before being converted into a wireless signal.
So far, tests have shown that Gandalf could carry data at 1.25 Gb/s. But now, the European partners involved in the project are already thinking about future applications, such as in disaster situations.
"With our system in place they could send out mobile units that would relay the signal of the last functioning node to maintain communications for emergency services. You only have to look at the Hurricane Katrina disaster to see how a breakdown in communications can hamper rescue and recovery efforts, but with this technology those problems could be avoided because radio is evidently much more flexible than cable," Martí says.
For more information, please read this Gandalf Project Summary and browse through the various publications available from the site.
Sources: IST Results, November 7, 2005; and various web sites
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