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Monday, July 12, 2004

Fwd: ZDNet UK: Open-source Wi-Fi links remote communities

> Open-source Wi-Fi links remote communities
> Andrew Donoghue
> European wireless and open-source specialists have embarked on an
> international tour to spread the benefits of the technology to
> developing
> countries from Tajikistan to Ghana.
> The team, known as Informal, claims its wireless roadshow is an
> attempt to
> empower non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the developing world

> to own,
> operate and grow their own Internet infrastructure using wireless
> technology
> such as mesh networking. The aim is to allow remote communities in
> developing
> countries without traditional telecoms infrastructure to communicate

> more
> effectively.
> "We support these kinds of activities because we believe that the
> benefits of
> the Internet should be available globally," said Informal lead team

> member
> Simon Crab.
> While a lot of attention has been focused on bridging the digital
> divide and
> providing Internet access to remote areas, Informal claims to be
> concerned with allowing local communities to exchange information
> each
> other -- spreading local knowledge. "In each country, we will work
> primarily
> with local NGOs to assist them in building, maintaining and extending

> their
> own networks in areas that are under-served by telecommunication
> infrastructure," said Crab.
> The Informal team recently arrived in Tajikistan where it will remain

> for
> next three months before moving onto Ghana, Nepal, the Philippines,

> China and
> finally India.
> Existing examples of wireless technology projects in the developing

> world
> include DakNet and First Mile Solutions in Cambodia and the Jhai
> Foundation's
> Remote IT Village Project in Laos.
> Informal plans to use emerging wireless mesh technology to create
> cheap,
> robust connections in remote areas that do not have an established
> telecoms
> infrastructure. Each device on a mesh network receives and transmits

> its own
> traffic, while acting as a router for other devices; intelligence in

> each
> device allows it to automatically configure an efficient network, and

> to
> adjust if, for example, a node becomes overloaded or unavailable.
> advantages include ease of set-up, the ability to spread wireless
> access over
> a wide area from a single central wired connection, and the inherent
> toughness of such networks.
> Key to the Informal project is the development of a blueprint for a

> low-cost,
> wireless, rugged computing device which Informal will encourage the

> NGOs to
> develop and build. The so-called Autonokit will essentially be a
> low-cost
> computer that can work on non-standard power sources such as solar,

> wind,
> micro-hydro or even bicycle power.
> The Autonokit will run an open-source Linux or BSD distribution
> optimised for
> networking and auto configuration. It will be equipped with a 12V
> battery in
> case of power cuts, low wind or a fuel shortage.
> In an article written for CNET, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan
> spelled out
> the potential benefits that wireless and other technologies could
> bring to
> the developing world.
> "We need to think of ways to bring wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi)
> applications to
> the developing world, so as to make use of unlicensed radio spectrum
> deliver cheap and fast Internet access," he said.
> While providing developing communities with access to information is

> one of
> the main motivations behind the road-show, Crab -- whose
> job is
> at digital consultancy Lateral -- claims Informal's
> motivations are
> not purely altruistic. "A side effect of these projects is that it
> keeps us
> in touch with technical and creative developments in areas most
> companies
> don't look at, it keeps our roots in the real world," he said.
> Crab admitted that providing open access to information in some
> countries
> could be politically sensitive but he claimed that there is a lot of
> misleading information circulated about some countries approach
> controlling
> Internet access. "You have to be very careful about how you approach

> it but
> there are a lot of myths about countries such as China -- they
> actually have
> very free access compared to some places," he said.
> China has been heavily criticised by organisations such as Amnesty
> International for its attempts to censor Internet traffic and
> imprisoning
> several individuals for Internet-related crimes.

> -

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