Categories
Archive

Brazilian Solar-powered WiFi for Poor Schools

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

There is a pressing need to spread access to the internet to the world’s poor — but also many obstacles. Often it is something as basic as a lack of electricity that brings progress to a halt. But a Brazilian innovator has come up with a solar power supply that is helping to bring internet access to schools serving the poor.

Many initiatives are trying to bring inexpensive access to the internet to rural and remote regions around the world. Schools in poor areas are receiving laptop computers through schemes like the One Laptop Per Child project, but it is common that schools do not have a steady electricity supply to power the computers or the internet connection. One of the most successful ways of rapidly expanding access is to offer wireless (WiFi) internet so that anyone can use the Web, no matter what device they have, whether a laptop computer, a personal computer or a mobile phone. The signals use radio waves, and are an excellent solution for multiple users.

Brazilian professor Marcelo Zuffo, Interactive Electronics Coordinator at the University of Sao Paulo, has invented a cheap solar-powered WiFi access point for the poor. Designed to be used by schools without a steady source of electricity, it doesn’t need outside electricity supply, and is not difficult to assemble. It is being tested on lampposts around the Sao Paolo campus.

The device uses something called a ‘mesh’ strategy. By acting as a group, several units are able to expand the area covered by WiFi in a honeycomb pattern. The signal is relayed back and forth between the units, significantly increasing the area covered that can access the Web. “In such a strategy,” said Zuffo,”you can cover large rural areas, parks, low income neighbourhoods, by just dropping our equipment in roofs, trees or on to existing lamp posts.”

Zuffo was inspired to develop the solar-powered WiFi boxes after the university tried to bring laptop computers to a Sao Paulo school, and found they didn’t have a steady electricity supply.

“We came up with the idea of taking energy that is most plentiful and cheap, i.e. the sun,” he told the BBC. “We have a solar panel, a cheap motorcycle battery and a circuit that is responsible for energy management. We can have up to two days of full internet coverage and our goal is to increase that to 10 days – so that in the rainy season and the winter, you can have the internet for free.

“The natural plan is to miniaturize the system so that we can save on costs. So by the end you can imagine these WiFi solar mesh devices being the size of a cellphone or playing card.”

The low cost, solar-powered access point is ready as soon as it is unpacked and needs neither maintenance nor a power socket to get going.

“It is a completely autonomous WiFi hotspot, it doesn’t need any internet or energy connection,” said Zuffo.

“Everything comes from the sun and we have plenty of that in Brazil,” he said.

The volunteer organization Green WiFi initiative is also developing solar powered technologies to bring ubiquitous internet access to the world’s poor.

Zufo’s message for other scientists and inventors is this: “Innovation, invention is all about transforming people’s lives. We need methods and equipment which are cheap enough so that they are accessible to virtually every one, suitable for small scale applications, and compatible with man’s need for creativity.”

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.”

Published: November 2008

Resources

  • Wireless Networking in the Developing World: A Practical Guide to Planning and Building Low-cost Telecommunications Infrastructure. Website:
  • World Information Society Report 2007: A progress report on pledges to bring digital opportunity to all. Website:
  • The Wireless Geographic Logging Engine: This is a website with maps tracking the presence of WiFi access around the globe. So far it maps over 10 million separate WiFi networks. Entrepreneurs only have to log into the website to start searching for wireless networks near them.
  • iTrike: The world’s first solar powered wireless internet rickshaw.
  • The KyaTera lab where the technology was developed. Website: http://kyatera.incubadora.fapesp.br/portal/research/laboratories/interactive-electronic-media

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

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

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

Categories
Archive

Wireless Internet Culture Helping Zimbabwe Economy Recover

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Zimbabwe’s turbulent descent into hyperinflation at the beginning of the 2000s – and the food crisis it caused as prices soared and purchasing power shrank – captured the world’s attention. From refugees fleeing the country to widespread hunger and poverty, the impact of hyperinflation was stark and distressing. Since the country’s economy stabilized in 2009, various signals are showing that Zimbabwe is slowly making its way back to growth and stability.

The scale of the hyperinflation is summed up by Zimbabwe’s eye-popping inflation rate. By December 2008, inflation was estimated at 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent (or 65 followed by 107 zeros — 65 million googol) (Forbes Asia).

One recovery strategy is emerging in Zimbabwe’s booming eating and drinking establishments. It seems the urge to socialize and network has become the source of economic vitality where so much else has been damaged.

The proliferation of coffee shops with wi-fi (wireless internet access) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi-Fi) has spawned a new, connected business culture that is flexible and entrepreneurial.

Zimbabwe’s unity government was formed in September 2008. By the beginning of 2009, the government relented on the crippling hyperinflation and allowed business to be conducted in the US dollar. This made it possible to save again and do business with greater predictability. At this time, the country had the world’s highest inflation rate and the central bank printed a 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar note.

The economic result of greater stability has been new shopping malls opening and a boom in new eating and drinking establishments.

During the hyperinflation, eating out was the last thing on most people’s minds. Just surviving was the paramount daily task.

In the capital, Harare (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harare), the shopping mall Sam Levy’s Village (http://samlevysvillage.com), in the prosperous Borrowdale area of the northern suburbs, is full of thriving coffee shops, restaurants and pubs.

Outside of the wealthy enclaves, coffee shops have sprung up in the city’s art gallery, in sports clubs and a local supermarket chain.

While the coffees are still expensive relative to local wages, the Zimbabwe Online Hotspots (ZOL) (http://www.zol.co.zw) in the coffee shops have proved a big attraction. Most people in Zimbabwe have unreliable or non-existent electricity or, if lucky, poor-quality phone and internet dial-up in their homes.

ZOL Hotspots typically offer the first half hour of internet use for free. To surf longer, users must buy a voucher.

The damage done to the economy from hyperinflation and the political crisis means the country is still on the mend. But people have now resorted to what they call “networking,” according to Bryony Rheam in the Daily Telegraph newspaper. The functioning economy is all about making deals. And coffee shops with wi-fi are the perfect place to meet with a potential business partner.

But while the coffee shops are buzzing with people doing business, the proprietors still need to work out how to make better profits. Sales are still poor as people are mostly fixated on the wi-fi. One owner told the Telegraph: “We need to start charging people who sit here all day surfing the net.”

It is the restaurants who seem to be enjoying the boost in incomes and better spirits after the economic troubles. Zimbabwe’s black middle class are enjoying big occasions and celebrating with friends and family in restaurants.

“We went without for so long, that a lot of people almost see it as their right to spend money on eating out,” one patron told the Telegraph.

More good news has come from outside investors as well: Amstel Securities NV (http://www.amstelsec.com), based in Amsterdam, Netherlands calls Zimbabwe’s economy “the final frontier market in Africa”. It believes the country has the potential to grow its GDP (gross domestic product) to US $12 billion by 2015. The International Monetary Fund says the economy jumped from US $4.4 billion in 2009 to US $9 billion now.

In Amstel Securities’ report, it pegs the dollarization of the economy as the reason for stability: “These improvements have made Zimbabwe a much more vibrant economy with good further recovery potential.”

And these good vibes are contagious: it has been reported that the American hamburger chain McDonald’s is revisiting the idea of setting up in Zimbabwe. McDonald’s is currently present in a handful of African countries: South Africa has 132 restaurants.

Published: September 2010

Resources

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

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

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

Categories
Archive

Computer ‘Gold Farming’ Turning Virtual Reality Into Real Profits

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The rapid spread of the internet around the global South is bringing with it new forms of work. One of these trends is so-called “gold farming”: making money in the virtual world of computer gaming by trading in virtual money, prizes and goods for busy gamers who don’t have time to do it themselves. This work now employs 400,000 people – mostly men and mostly in China, but also elsewhere in the South, according to a new report.

Working out of internet centres where they can get access to high-speed or broadband internet connections, “gold farmers” use the global trade in virtual goods for online computer games in the same way stockbrokers trade shares on the world’s stock exchanges. The trade operates similarly to the stock market, with prices fluctuating based on demand and changing by the minute.

And as the report discovered, this trade is acting as a gateway into the world of information technology employment, where computer-literate young men are able to earn an income they could not have done otherwise.

It is a trade that can provide gold farmers with US $145 a month in income. They are often given free food and accommodation to do it, and many have few other economic choices.

“You can probably think of two models,” said the report’s author, Professor Richard Heeks of Manchester University’s Development Informatics Group. “They could play as an individual at a local cybercafe doing their own in-game farming and then selling to one of the trading sites (that buy from farmers at one price, then sell on to player-buyers at a higher price). Or they could be organized into a small/medium enterprise by an owner, all working together in a room full of computers.”

There is a dark side to gold farming too: there have been reports of youths forced to gold farm by gangs who make them work 12 hour days. Crime gangs sometimes become involved and scams proliferate.

Heeks says the downside is the result of governmental ignorance. “The main problem is a lack of understanding about ICT and ICT enterprise generally in some governments in developing countries and in particular a relative lack of understanding about the spread and implications of computer games.”

Supporters see gold farming as a flourishing Southern economy that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and exposes participants both to information technology skills and the wide horizons of the virtual computing world. Its defenders say it shows that those who dismiss the expansion of IT infrastructure as a waste of time are missing the emerging economic opportunities it is creating.

Heeks said we still know too little about this fast-evolving sector, but that “gold farming does seem to be providing income/livelihood for young men who would otherwise be unemployed. There are claims that it has helped mop up youths who had otherwise been involved in crime, but we don’t yet know how generalized such claims are.”

The number of players engaged in online gaming has grown by 80 percent per year, and Heeks sees the rise in gold farming as linked to a bigger trend: “in both North and South, we will spend increasing amounts of work and leisure time in cyberspace. Couple that with the growing penetration of ICTs into developing countries, including into poor communities, and there will be growing opportunities for this kind of ‘virtual outsourcing.’”

Currently, more than 300 million people worldwide have access to the internet through fast broadband connections (mostly in developed countries, although this is changing quickly), and more than 1.1 billion of the world’s estimated 6.6 billion people are online.

China is working hard to capture the economic power of the internet. The country’s economic boom has helped create an affluent urban middle class clamouring for the social aspects of internet access like chat rooms, while the government has been driving the roll-out of internet access in rural areas.

The country’s largest Cyber Park is under construction in Wujin New and High-tech Development Zone of Changzhou. It will be a technology incubator, a research and development centre, and a place for small and medium-sized enterprises to innovate.

China’s most ambitious digital media industry development is the Beijing Cyber Recreation District (CRD), a collection of digital media academies and company incubators spread over 100 square kilometres, creating the world’s largest virtual world development. It is already home to more than 200 game and multimedia content producers in western Beijing.

And even in Africa, where broadband penetration rates are very poor, countries are now looking to the mobile phone companies to provide their populations with access to the internet, as they struggle to find a place at the digital table.

Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean strategically close to Africa and better known for tourism and luxury hotels, wants to become the world’s “cyber island”, and Africa’s e-gateway. Armed with the first 3G network in Africa (the third generation of mobile phone technology – offering high-speed internet access and video telephony), Mauritius is moving fast to make good on this advantage. And it is even moving to the next level of mobile-phone speed, High-speed Download Packet Access (HSDPA) – allowing even greater quantities of information to be exchanged.

Mauritius joins a select few countries, including Japan and South Korea, at the forefront of access to 3G. Wireless – or wi-fi – computer access is available in three-quarters of the island.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: September 2008

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Follow @SouthSouth1

Archive.org: https://archive.org/details/Httpwww.slideshare.netDavidSouth1development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsseptember2008issue

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsseptember2008issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

Categories
Archive Blogroll

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.

Resources

Creative Commons License

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

Southern Innovator Issue 1: Mobile Phones & Information Technology.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021