Japanese earthquake shelters getting PCs, WiMax

IT companies are playing an important part in reconnecting people hit by Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless, japan earthquake

An HP laptop with WiMax adapter at an evacuation center in Sendai, Japan

Image credit: Martyn Williams/IDG News Service

With a new laptop computer under his arm, Kenji Takemoto marched into the Takasago Day Care Center in Sendai. It's been almost a month since an earthquake and tsunami devastated the coastal area of this city and for the tens of families living in the center, life is getting boring.

After the initial needs of food, warmth and a place to sleep were taken care of, thoughts turned to contacting friends and communications networks became a vital lifeline. Most Japanese cell phones have e-mail and web browsing abilities, but the small screen and limited features mean they've not perfect for everything.

That's where Takemoto, an employee of Intel, and the Hewlett-Packard laptop come in. Led by Intel, a group of tech companies are installing laptop PCs with WiMax connections in evacuation centers so the residents have a link to the Internet. (Watch a video of this report.)

As he started unwrapping the PC from a protective plastic wrapper, a small crowd of children immediately formed around him.

"Through this we'll be able to search for things, right?" asked one of the children.

"Sure. We'll soon have this set up and you can access Yahoo Kids and other sites," said Takemoto.

"I don't need Yahoo Kids," shot back one girl who looked about 8 years old. "I want the real Yahoo."

Intel has already supplied 60 laptops to 30 evacuation centers.

The computers are being linked to the Internet via the WiMax service of UQ Communications. UQ, in which Intel invested $43 million, already offered WiMax service in and around Sendai before the earthquake. Like all of Japan's wireless telecom carriers, its network was disrupted by the magnitude 9.0 quake but is recovering.

Wired and wireless phone service was particularly badly hit by the quake, which knocked out 1.5 million fixed lines and thousands of cellular base stations.

In areas far away from the quake zone, including Tokyo, service was spotty for days after carriers imposed restrictions that meant only about one in ten calls got connected. The limits kept circuits free for emergency users, whose phones have the ability to bypass the restrictions.

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