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Museum exhibits a high-tech future


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Wroughton's hangers are now linked to the Internet by Intel's WiMax network.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- High up on the Wiltshire Downs in south-west England, Wroughton Airfield is home to one of the world's largest collections of scientific relics.

Wroughton's hangers have space for around 18,000 objects belonging to London's Science Museum, ranging from vintage airliners to horse-drawn fire engines, early computers and MRI scanners.

But as well as chronicling the past, Wroughton has become a signpost to a high-tech future.

Earlier this year Intel, the world's largest computer chip manufacturer, contacted Wroughton's curators with a proposal to make their lives easier.

Wroughton's remoteness gave the Science Museum all the space they needed, but that isolation created other problems.

The lack of a local communications infrastructure meant the site lacked Internet access, an essential research tool for museum staff.

The solution was WiMax, a technology that does for large areas what Wi-Fi hotspots have done for small spaces, allowing anyone within a 50-kilometer radius of a base station to connect wirelessly to the Web.

"They had a major problem: that this wild site was very difficult to connect to the net," said Gordon Graylish, director of Intel's Communications Business Organization for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

"It would have cost huge amounts of money and taken months, if not years, to accomplish. With WiMax we could easily deploy the technology at a tiny fraction of the cost and get this incredible repository, the history of technology, online."

Museum curator Marta Leskard said the arrival of WiMax had transformed the way she worked.

"These days the Internet is where we start our research. Although it isn't always accurate it gives us a really good place to start," she said.

"Previously, I might have brought my own laptop and entered information in a spreadsheet, and then I'd have to go back to my desk and hook up to the Internet.

"What this will do ultimately is enable me to tap into or our own collection's management software database. And that means that if I come up here to do any work on the actual objects, I'll be able to enter all that information right away. All the data can be incredibly accurate because I can double-check it when I'm standing right in front of the object."

For the Science Museum, all it took to get connected was one antenna.

And for the corporate customer of the future, an antenna is far cheaper than digging underground to install fixed wires and cables. Intel believes that could also open up Internet access to areas, like Wroughton, previously too remote to make a high-speed connection viable.

"If you go back 40 years relatively few people had TVs. That medium has really changed the way the whole planet works," said Intel executive vice president Sean Maloney.

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Some of the exhibits at the Science Museum's Wroughton storage site.

"The Internet is at a similar stage of development now. Over the next 10 to 20 years, economies will be dependent on it and the planet as a whole will get increasingly connected."

Intel's investment in wireless networking technology already stretches to billions of dollars, but if WiMax takes off as it hopes, the company stands to profit from the demand for chips powering the technology.

Before that can occur, some analysts are predicting a battle to the death between WiMax and 3G, the technology that is already providing mobile wireless connectivity to some mobile phones.

But others believe the two platforms can co-exist, with WiMax having the advantage for businesses that it can carry more data because of its wider bandwidth.

"WiMax is not going to be a 3G giant killer," said Jake Saunders of technology consultants Concise Insight.

"The reality is 3G is gaining momentum and WiMax will not be able to get into the market to get over that. But what it will do is provide an overlay. The demand for larger files, for larger applications, for video to be down-streamed, will provide scenarios where a business case can be built."

-- CNN's Diana Magnay contributed to this report.


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