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Record-breaking Wireless Internet to Help Rural Areas

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Many initiatives seek to bring inexpensive access to the internet to rural and remote regions around the world. One of the most successful ways to rapidly expand access is to offer wireless internet so that anyone can use a laptop computer, a PC or a mobile phone to quickly access the Net. Access to wireless internet is being rolled out in cities around the world with so-called ‘hot spots’, but the thornier issue of improving access in rural or remote regions could get better, thanks to a Venezuelan team.

The rapid expansion of mobile phones has done much to reduce the digital divide in Africa, for example, where the number has grown from just 15 million in 2000 to more than 160 million by the end of 2006, according to the International Telecommunications Union. This rapid growth has paid off: Morocco, Senegal, Ghana, Gabon and Cote d’Ivoire are in the top ten gainers of the Digital Opportunity Index, 2004-2006 (http://www.itu.int). The proliferation of Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phones combined with the spread of inexpensive wireless access has the potential to close the digital divide between rural and urban areas.

The issue of inequality in access to the internet has stark consequences for global economic development. Already, according to the World Information Society Report 2007, “Europe has achieved the largest overall gain in digital opportunity over the last two years, followed by the Americas… Asia and Africa have witnessed smaller gains in digital opportunity. The implications for the digital divide are clear: digital opportunity is becoming more sharply divided by region, not less.”

As the Digital Divide campaign learned, it is more important to keep in mind “Internet kiosks or rental of cell phones and other devices hold great promise for the poor. But shared use is a complement to a strategy that involves giving each person their own wireless device. Eventually, the price of such devices will be low enough so that everyone can have their own device.”

A Venezuelan team led by Ermanno Pietrosemoli, president of the Latin American networking association Escuela Latinoamericana de Redes, has broken the world record for unamplified broadcasting of a Wi-Fi (wireless internet) signal. The signal was broadcast in June from two mountains 282 kilometres apart in the Venezuelan Andes. Importantly, they did this using equipment costing only just over US $360, while producing a signal strong enough to send video messages. The former record was 220 kilometres set in 2005.

The consequence of this achievement for entrepreneurs is important: It means inexpensive wireless signals can now reach further into remote and rural regions for a small investment.

“We we’re able to transmit voice and video with both,” said Professor Pietrosemoli. “280 kilometres is pushing the envelope, but the same technique can be used at distances of some 150 kilometres by people with some basic training provided there is uninterrupted line of sight between the end points. This usually means shooting from hills or using them as repeater points. For distances up to 80 kilometres, towers can be used to provide connectivity even in flat land”

Pietrosemoli is willing to train people in the techniques he has developed for transmitting wireless over large distances (https://wireless.ictp.it or www.eslareed.org.ve).

The advantages of this approach include cost and simplicity. The more commercial WiMax technology costs more and is usually installed by large companies. Pietrosemoli’s technique is for people who lack those technical and financial advantages.

“I have been installing wireless networks for some 20 years,” he continued, “and reckon that wireless is the only viable alternative to ameliorate the digital divide in developing countries. For rural areas, the challenge is to use as little repeater sites as possible, as each repeater adds costs, delay and powering issues.”

Pietrosemoli said the only other obstacle to setting these networks up is the availability of unlicensed radio frequency spectrum in the 2,4 and 5 Ghz bands. The International Telecommunications Union has recommended that countries make these free for the use of data networks, but some countries are still blocking this.

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Southern Innovator Issue 1: Mobile Phones & Information Technology.

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© David South Consulting 2021

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Creative Use of Wi-Fi to Reach the Poor

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

In 2003 former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for greater access to wi-fi, or wireless internet networks, as a mechanism to help poorer regions catch up with the pace of technological change in developed countries. Wireless networks remove the need to lay costly wires and can quickly bring fast and convenient internet access to large populations currently denied access. By removing the need to lay lots of cables to get communities online, wireless could help poorer nations narrow the digital divide and catch up with countries where the technology has already taken hold. Social entrepreneurs are stepping in to fill the gap between the promise of wi-fi and the reality.

A contemporary take on the mobile library, where a bus travels to remote or under serviced areas to lend books, is being used to bring wi-fi and web content to remote villages in India, Rwanda, Cambodia and Paraguay lacking internet access. United Villages and its subsidiary First Mile Solutions cleverly targets only the content the villagers really want and then provides it to them for a fee. Using a fleet of buses and motorcycles, they upload in the city before going to the countryside popular pages and pages previously requested. “There’s only 0.003 percent of the web that rural Indians care about,” founder Amir Hassan told the BBC. “They want to know the cricket scores, they want to see the new Aishwarya Rai photos, and they want to hear a sample of the latest Bollywood tunes.”

Once in the countryside, a small box with an antenna onboard the buses or a motorcycle communicates with the rural computers, sometimes up to six times a day. Special content requests can be made for a few rupees, and emails are collected and delivered. Not only do the buses deliver web content, they also act as a courier service, picking up and delivering products ordered via the web for the villagers. “We-re bringing e-commerce to rural India,” said Hassan.

“My objective is to show to the village youth that having a PC with connectivity is a viable business, so that more and more unemployed youth can take up this as a self-employment opportunity,” remarks villager Raj Kishor Swain, who helps with United Villages.

Green WiFi, based in San Francisco, has a simple aim: to provide children in developing countries with access to the internet. But the difference is that they have developed a solution to the biggest problem in most remote regions: reliable electricity supply. Their invention is intended to partner with the US $100 laptop computers being rolled out in the developing countries by the One Laptop Per Child Project. Green WiFi has developed a low cost, solar-powered, standardized wi-fi access solution that runs out-of-the-box with no systems integration or power requirements. All that is required is a single source of broadband access and light.

In a further boost to internet access in Africa, the World Bank is also funding US $164.5 million in high-speed internet access for Kenya, Burundi and Madagascar to boost regional competitiveness. Eastern and much of Southern Africa is the only region in the world not connected to the global broadband infrastructure.

Resources

  • The Wireless Internet Institute was launched in 2001 as an international think tank where stakeholders explore wireless Internet technologies, best practices and sustainable implementation models. W2i is a World Times, Inc. initiative addressing the regulatory, business and integration complexities associated with the deployment of wireless Internet technologies.
  • The World Dialogue on Regulation for Network Economies is concerned with regulation and governance for network economies. They conduct research, facilitate online dialogue and discussion among experts, and publish and distribute papers, reports and other relevant information.
  • I-Genius: I-genius is a world community of social entrepreneurs and seeks to inspire a new generation of social innovators. They hope to encourage partnerships across geographical and cultural boundaries, by building partnerships between social businesses and wider stake holders, governments, corporations, NGOs, investors and the media.
  • A blog linking technology and social entrepreneurs: Click here
  • Social Edge: a web portal for social entrepreneurs by social entrepreneurs
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.