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Coverage of 3rd world townships with wireless Internet services

By marcos in Technology
Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 09:29:57 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

The focus in Internet development in the west has mostly been on wired systems, primarily because almost every location is linked with every other location by existing overland lines. However, in most of the world, and almost all of the 3rd world, properly functioning wired links between locations are rare.

With all the recent advances that have been made on the wireless connectivity frontier, it holds to reason that it would be intelligent for the 3rd world to simply skip the high investment costs of laying and maintaining all the ground lines, and jump directly to wireless communication.

Suggested, and already being implemented. Most of Africa is for example hooking up to cable TV, but that kind of cable TV which does not require a cable. DSTV, a south African based cable TV provider, uses a satellite to connect all of Africa to their service. DSTV is very popular in Africa, and functions nicely.

Similarly, mobile phones on the GSM bandwave are being introduced in various Asian and African countries, and are turning out exceedingly popular. MTN and Econet, a South African and Zimbabwean firm, are providing the services in a number of African countries. Mobile phone owners in Africa have increased from 2 million to 35 million in 6 years, and the numbers are going up.

Internet in the third world is increasingly being done by a connection medium largely ignored in the west - the satellite link. The basic scheme usually looks this way: A satellite dish is set up in a city, and connects to a large ISP in Europe or America, over a European or American satellite. Locally, a powerful radio connects a small number of clients to this central location. The range of the radios reach 20-30 kilometers, and the signals are broadcasted off tall towers, and are received with similar tall metal constructions.

Because high rise buildings are not very common in most of the 3rd world, this system functions reasonably well. In mountaneous areas, it becomes a different story of course.

Now, how can this system be optimized? That is the question I am posing to K5 readers. There are a number of factors to be considered:

  1. There are usually no restrictions on radio broadcast wavelengths
  2. The components must be as cheap and as small as possible
  3. If the components are linked in a grid, then if one hub dies, or electricity goes off, it should not result in a large number of other hubs also not working
  4. Speed is not much of an issue at the moment

My idea is as follows:

Small towns with less than 10 kilometers radius have a single 802.11 hub mounted in the middle of the town, and have a single satellite connection at that point. The broadcaster and receptor is mounted on a tall tower. The clients who are nearby can use standard equipment to receive the signals. The clients who live further off need to build progressively taller towers to receive the signals.

Outlying townships who wish to be connected will need to purchase larger dedicated transmission equipment, which will connect on another radio frequency directly to the hub, and get the signal translated there directly by a computer dedicated to this task. I assume that a radius of 20KM would be possible with Taiwanese or Chinese built radio equipment. This outlying township itself would then be served by a 802.11 broadcaster in the centre, which will cover an area similar to the above scheme.

Larger cities will use a similar method, but would have radio repeaters to spread the signal out amongst the entire population.

But there are problems:

  1. Satellite access has high downstream, but very low upstream (usually not higher than 128kbits/sec). The more people that share, the slower the upstream gets
  2. Satellite has terrible lag
  3. Radio is affected by adverse weather conditions

The second question to K5: What equipment could be used to implement such a plan, and how could the equipment be chosen to avoid those problems?


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Wireless internet?
o It works, but sucks 15%
o 3rd world people need food, not internet 43%
o This idea is crazy, but maybe crazy enough to work! 22%
o I don't care 18%

Votes: 58
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Econet
o Also by marcos

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Coverage of 3rd world townships with wireless Internet services | 64 comments (61 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Seems unrealistic to me - (3.33 / 12) (#1)
by gbroiles on Thu Nov 28, 2002 at 01:25:15 PM EST

It's not particularly uncommon for telecommunications and radio communications to be tightly controlled by governments, partly for political/cultural reasons, and partly for economic reasons - they make a lot of money charging ridiculous monopoly prices for long-distance service. (See, for example, Panama's recent attempt to ban IP-based telephony to protect their long distance business.)

Do you really expect these governments to be enthusiastic (or even permissive) with respect to a technology that's likely to undermine their control over wide-area communications? Look at what happened with the Miss World pageant, and now imagine exposing the people who rioted in the street for 3 days over a newspaper article to porn-site popups.

This is not a technical problem, it's a political problem. Getting networks in is easy, once the will to do so exists.

I'd also be pretty surprised if the hypothetical target market for this have both the literacy and the technology required to use either wired or wireless networks - TV is easy to give people because it's visual and oral, not written - but E-mail isn't much good for people who can't read. (No, I'm not trying to say that people who live in the "3rd world" are too stupid to read - but that they frequently haven't had education which would allow them to do so, and don't necessarily have time or an inclination to learn now, especially if they can get similar benefits from non-written media like telephones, radio, and television.) I'm sure that there are people in every nation who could benefit from and enjoy Internet access, and I'd be happy to see them get it, but I don't think wildly overestimating the target market and hence overbuilding the infrastructure is the way to do it.

Works in Nigeria (4.87 / 8) (#2)
by marcos on Thu Nov 28, 2002 at 01:48:38 PM EST

'Case you don't know, I'm Nigerian, and I'm not exactly the epitome of bumbling idiocity. Such  internet systems like I described are the norm in Nigeria (where I was a month ago), and the government does not care one bit who has access to the internet. In fact, I find that there are a lot less restrictions on private life in Nigeria than here in Germany.

And I think you very much underestimate the level of education in the 3rd world. Look at the Indian computer people who came to Germany to take the programming jobs because the Germans were not computer literate enough. Trust me, the 3rd world is literate.

And demand for internet and communication is quite high. The few companies that do provide such services are swamped with clients in Nigeria. The internet Cafes are all very busy, and there is a real demand for communication, particularly email.

May I politely suggest that you are making a guess that you cannot back up with experience? I am not guessing, so take my word on this one: the 3rd world is as interested in the internet as any other grade of world.

[ Parent ]

Yes (none / 0) (#6)
by nevertheless on Thu Nov 28, 2002 at 07:03:51 PM EST

And demand for internet and communication is quite high.
Yes, I get an e-mail every few days from someone in Nigeria trying to get some help moving some money around.

This whole "being at work" thing just isn't doing it for me. -- Phil the Canuck

[ Parent ]
Ok, great, educate me. (1.00 / 2) (#15)
by gbroiles on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 03:31:38 AM EST

I'll cheerfully agree with you that I don't know much about Nigeria. I am able to learn from a simple web search that Nigeria has a literacy rate of around 50% (60% for males, 40% for females); that its population is approximately 130 million people, who together share 500,000 phone lines, 200,000 cell phones, and 100,000 accounts at 11 ISP's; and that the government (which was a series of military dictatorships for much of the 1960's, 1970's, and from 1983-1999) controls 2 of the 3 existing television stations. If that's not correct, I'd love to hear what the real numbers are.

Also, it'd be real interesting to hear about what fraction of the population have computers and/or received education about computer use in school - it looks like there were around 7 million TV's in Nigeria in 1997, and it's hard to believe that there are going to be more Internet-capable computers in use than televisions.

I don't know how you're using the term "third world" if you're also going to say "trust me, the 3rd world is literate" - the way I've understood the term, it refers to nations which depend on the sale of natural resources and foreign loans to sustain themselves, and are usually characterized by illiteracy, political instability, poor living conditions, and uncontrolled population growth. (See, for example, <http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Travel/Def_Third_World.html> or <http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/abouteleanor/q-and-a/glossary/third-world.htm> for definitions similar to what I'm used to.) Perhaps you mean something else when you use that term - if you mean Africa, you might as well just say that.

Frankly, I don't know if the picture you paint of Nigeria is accurate or not - you don't seem to be describing the same country I read about in news accounts (which describe rioting about Miss World, uncertainty about the distribution of power between Islam and the secular government, and the fact that Nigeria hasn't yet had a peaceful transition from one democratically elected leader to another) .. but to the extent that your description of Nigeria as a nation full of educated people ready to jump onto the Internet but lacking the technical expertise to make the last few miles of net connection is a reasonable one, it doesn't really sound like Nigeria's part of the third world, so your description of it is distracting at best.

So, frankly, I'm back at my original point, which is that if we're going to concern ourselves with solving problems for third world people, perhaps we should start with things like potable water, sanitary sewers, locally sustainable agriculture, education, and political stability before getting all excited about 802.11.

[ Parent ]

Agreed! (none / 0) (#16)
by Builder on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 04:02:07 AM EST

So, frankly, I'm back at my original point, which is that if we're going to concern ourselves with solving problems for third world people, perhaps we should start with things like potable water, sanitary sewers, locally sustainable agriculture, education, and political stability before getting all excited about 802.11.

Couldn't have said it better myself!
Be nice to your daemons
[ Parent ]
The facts (5.00 / 3) (#17)
by marcos on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 04:15:25 AM EST

Generally, if you put 120 million people together, and in a sweeping generalisation, say that they were uneducated and poor, would it be true? Unlikely.

Nigeria is a developing country like many other countries, and has a very large population. A large population means that there has to be local industry to provide the commodities that that population needs. Local industry implies money changing hands. Money changing hads implies a concentration of money with some people.

In other words, there is an existing middle class which can afford computers. This middle class can also read and write. Because there are poor people also living in the country that are uneducated, does not mean that the middle class should be ignored.

The middle class have money to spend, and are spending it on VCD players, big screen TVs, PCs, Satellite TV, cars, local and foreign movies, etc. These people are interested in the internet.

Similarly, there is an educated class. These are people who are not too rich, but have got a primary secondary and university education. They are very much exposed to the west, and use email as a mode of communication. They are not computer gurus, but they are capable of understanding how email works, and realize that it is much easier to communicate with email.

It is around this middle class that the entertainment industry is based. There are a few really poor countries where people simply cannot afford ameneties that are not the very basic amenities, but not most countries. Asian countries like India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan etc., have people that need the internet. African countries like SA, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Cameroun, Kenya, Botswana, Ivory Coast, etc., are all not consisting of starving refugees.

What exactly is your idea? That the 10 million people who can afford and want the internet should wait around till the other 50 million get high paying jobs before you even dare think about bringing them into the modern world?

Be realistic - if you force Africans to be agriculturists, then they will never become computer programmers.

Nigeria is instable, in that small regions have got ethnic clashes every once in a while. The introduction, or none introduction of working communication material is not changing that in any way.

Nigeria has a large number of poor people. It has a number of middle class people also. It has a number of very rich people also. You simply are not aware of the proportions in which these groups exist. And I tell you from experience that the middle-clas group is large enough to warrant investment (which will provide good returns), in internet based communication.

I cannot argue more than this. If you are still not convinced, then tell mee exactly what is causing you to doubt.

[ Parent ]

It sounds to me like the locals have done it - (1.00 / 2) (#30)
by gbroiles on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 02:20:25 PM EST

.. as you mentioned in an earlier comment about Internet cafes, which are a pretty efficient way of providing computers and internet access to a big population without requiring big infrastructure projects, which are expensive, slow, and attract corruption and regulation (not just in the third world).

The introduction of international communication has a tremendous impact on traditional Muslim cultures - how do you think that the fundamentalist Muslims who were so angry about the Miss World contest are going to react to the sexual content available on the Internet? Pretty much everywhere else, it's led to an official "suppress this" response, and an unofficial explosion of demand and curiosity. What makes you think Nigeria would be different? I get the impression that Nigeria is about 40% Muslim, so it's not like we're talking about just a few grumpy throwbacks in some backwater town.

If you would like me to be aware of the proportions of rich, middle class, and poor people in Nigeria, please go ahead and give me a citation to some sort of census or statistical abstract. I think it's perfectly reasonable to make broad statements about big groups of people, so long as everyone understands that it's unreasonable to expect the broad statements to be literally true about every member of the population. You do the same thing yourself, when you say that the middle class wants Internet access - I'll readily believe that the statement is true for the majority of middle-class people, but I'm sure there are a few who don't care about the Internet at all. The existence of those few people doesn't derail our ability to talk about "a middle class who wants to use the Internet", and similarly it makes sense to continue to talk about "third world nations" as having serious problems with disease and illiteracy, even though there are members of the population for whom that's not true.

I think it makes more sense to talk about countries or regions one-by-one, not as a big aggregate like "third world nations", because the aggregate hides a lot of smaller problems that turn out to be important - like urban vs. rural, and cultural/religious concerns, and local climate/geography, etc - a good solution for one place won't be a good solution at all for another place. But, if you want to use the notion of "the third world", it doesn't make sense to complain that people continue to think about it as having the qualities implied by the term, even if we all know that there are going to be individuals who aren't well described by the generalization.

[ Parent ]

I can't argue this out (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by marcos on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 03:06:09 PM EST

Let me ask you to give me the numbers on the number of people who want internet access in New York city, and then make you prove that anybody at all wants internet access, and you will be int he same problem I'm in. You go there, and you meet the people, sonst I don't know.,

Let us just stick to the technical thing, I don't want to argue about the social aspect.

[ Parent ]

How can you possibly solve a problem (1.00 / 2) (#47)
by gbroiles on Sat Nov 30, 2002 at 09:24:44 PM EST

.. if you don't even know what the problem is? If you don't know how many people want access, and where they're located, and what kind of access they want, and how much they're willing to pay for it, you've got no business designing a network. Stop. Put down the mouse. Close that Visio window.

Like I said, I'm skeptical that it's at all helpful to skip over more basic infrastructure in favor of whizzy toys like 802.11 (which has had a lot of trouble gaining a foothold in the US market beyond SOHO LANs, even though there are lots fewer barriers to adoption here) .. but, shit, maybe there's some way that it works.

But I'm really sure that it doesn't work to build a WAN infrastructure without having basic information about usage and resources which you don't seem to have, or even think you might need.

[ Parent ]

You read something, he's been there. (4.00 / 1) (#53)
by autopr0n on Sun Dec 01, 2002 at 12:35:13 PM EST

And what you read indicates there are 100,000 people who have internet access. You don't think there would be any more intrested if they could get it?

Your having read a few things on the net does not make you an expert, and should certanly not let you feel intitled to tell someone that their first hand observation is wrong.

[autopr0n] got pr0n?
autopr0n.com is a categorically searchable database of porn links, updated every day (or so). no popups!
[ Parent ]
literacy (none / 0) (#59)
by jefu on Mon Dec 02, 2002 at 02:03:09 PM EST

I was in Zaire (now the Congo again) in the mid 70's (Peace Corps). I don't know the official figures for literacy at that point, but even "en brousse" (out of the cities) schools were ubiquitous and most small children learned to read.

Even among adults of the time - who'd grown up in the (um) "good ole days" of the Belgian Congo where education was far from important, literacy did not seem all that uncommon.

What was difficult was access to things to read, and especially things to read that were meaningful to the readers. (I'd doubt that there would be that many people living in the sticks in Zaire who would be all that interested in "Remembrance of Things Past" - but then is that any different from the sticks in (say) Oregon.)

[ Parent ]

Cool. (none / 0) (#60)
by gbroiles on Mon Dec 02, 2002 at 02:43:08 PM EST

Sounds like maybe Zaire would be a fertile place for Internet use, at least from a literacy perspective. How were they doing for technical infrastructure? Have things changed between then and now?

[ Parent ]
Infrastructure (none / 0) (#62)
by jefu on Tue Dec 03, 2002 at 11:25:07 AM EST

At the time I was there Zaire had minimal infrastructure of all sorts. The Belgian Congo was notorious for the way it was exploited and the way that the Belgian government did little for the people.

I lived in a couple places and at one point was just a swim (or pirogue ride) across the river from Zambia. The differences from one side of the river to the other were amazing. On the Zambian side there were maintained roads, phone lines (not everywhere, but they were there), even public bus service. On the Zaire side the roads that there were were in generally bad shape - almost unusable in places, communication was almost nonexistant - major cities communicated by missionary operated radio nets, there were trains between major cities - for anything else you would usually end up riding a truck - if you could find one.

I've not been back (sadly, i really grew to like the place and people a lot). What follows is from press reports and a couple of personal communications from people who have been there.

Sad as it was then, Mobutu (Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbengu Wa Za Banga - "Mobutu the all conquering, the cock who leaves no hen intact"), a kleptarch from hell, managed to make things much, much, much , much worse.

It did not help that the northeast of the country was effectively invaded by the Ruandans. Or that there's been a quiet civil war for the last few years - its hard to get current information, but for a while there was a de facto division of the country into several independently controlled areas - I just checked the CIA factbook and it looks like that may still be the case - though it is not said directly.

I fear that factoring in the civil war, AIDS, disruption of exports, tribal rivalries and so on that Congo may now be effectively worse off than during the worst ravages of their European exploiters - and that was very bad.

To return briefly to the the original context the CIA factbook reports over 75% adult literacy.

[ Parent ]

do these people even have computers? (3.17 / 17) (#3)
by dr k on Thu Nov 28, 2002 at 02:13:24 PM EST

I used to see this kind of crap in Wired back before Mozilla even came out, and it was bullshit then. You're not really talking about third world towns, you're talking about devloping urban centers with thousands of people who aren't subsistence farming or working in sweat shops. Why bring your technofetishism into this, why not just say "Hey all you poor people, come off your farms and move into the city, where we've got satellite TV, and American magazines, and disease!"

Destroy all trusted users!

I could not agree more. (3.00 / 6) (#23)
by Trevor OLeary on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 04:52:48 AM EST

This plan's real aim is to destroy traditional African agricultural-focused society by importing contagious Western values and ideas. In a sense it's a kind of genocide - a purposeful eradication of a culture.

Africans should stay Africans and keep working the land and not aspire to the affluence of Westerners - after all, you are best at what you know. Us Westerners should keep our so-called "advanced" technologies to ourselves. Western white collar workers shouldn't have to compete with educated Africans who work at cheap rates.

[ Parent ]

totally agreed (none / 0) (#52)
by fhotg on Sun Dec 01, 2002 at 09:56:32 AM EST

we should stop ethnocide through technology now and foster the preservation of traditional cultures by shielding them from modern influences. We just need to pick a target date. In the case of Africa, why not get back to the conditions around 1700, there would be profitable side-effects for us too.
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]
Interesting topic (1.80 / 5) (#4)
by godix on Thu Nov 28, 2002 at 05:37:43 PM EST

Building an entirely wireless network infrastructure is an interesting topic. Basing it off Africa makes it rather moot though. Before we worry about getting the web to people in the bushes of Africa perhaps we should worry about getting food, medicine, AIDs vacine, and a stable government that isn't out to kill/expell people of one race/tribe.

- An egotist is someone who thinks they're almost as good as I am.
Uninformed opinion (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by marcos on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 04:18:25 AM EST

Read my previous posts regarding the need for such a service.

[ Parent ]
what service? (1.00 / 1) (#22)
by dr k on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 04:47:45 AM EST

Instant messaging service? Access to Google? Everquest?

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

How about (5.00 / 1) (#24)
by marcos on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 04:58:19 AM EST

email? Simple communication, just like the phone, but better.

[ Parent ]
+1FP: Technical Challenge v. Social Challenge (1.66 / 3) (#7)
by tin the fatty on Thu Nov 28, 2002 at 07:05:28 PM EST

All the comments about food medicine clean water are more needed than p0rn are so very true. This armchair under-exercised geek however looks at it as a technical challenge rather than a social challenge.

"Science is the solution! Now, what is the problem?"

Communication (4.50 / 2) (#46)
by Paul Johnson on Sat Nov 30, 2002 at 06:39:32 AM EST

Communication is a key enabler for these things. If its a 1-day trek to market and you have no easier way to find out the going rate for your produce then you have to take pot luck on the prices. If prices are down that week then tough luck. With communications you can check the prices before setting out, or even negotiate collection.

And once you have the money to buy a water pump you can check prices from a range of vendors instead of dealing with the one guy who sells plumbing in the local town and sees the hick farmers as easy marks.

You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

information (4.00 / 1) (#58)
by jefu on Mon Dec 02, 2002 at 01:54:29 PM EST

Access to information can be a powerful factor in getting clean water, medical care and so on.

If you have a way to find out how to construct a hydrolic ram out of parts from a dead car, that dead car outside of the village suddenly becomes a major asset.

Someone with some background in medical care with access to a doctor over the internet, some medical supplies and medicines can probably take care of quite a number of relatively minor health problems.

EDUCATION (in general) !!!

Sure, there may be people downloading porn - but if that serves as an impetus to get more information access of other kinds to people, so much the better.

[ Parent ]

Interesting (1.22 / 9) (#8)
by SanSeveroPrince on Thu Nov 28, 2002 at 07:34:03 PM EST

However, before any such plan can be put in fruition, would it not be better to make sure that the general African populace is:

1) able to afford wireless devices

2) able to refrain from fainting (because they don't have enough food) long enough to log on to the net?


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

Stop this (3.00 / 2) (#18)
by marcos on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 04:16:26 AM EST

Find out the facts before making assumptions. Read my previous posts on the existence of a demand for such products in the 3rd world market.

[ Parent ]
hmmmm.... (1.50 / 4) (#25)
by SanSeveroPrince on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 05:30:24 AM EST


Now, admitting that Africa is one big ass place with many a cultural gradient gracing its land, why don't you specify a little?

I don't care about your past comments. If you want to post an article, make it able to stand on its own two legs.

Most of us I see think 'Africa' and summon up images of starving babies... call it TV propaganda, but it's there...

Oh, and there is an interesting parallel you could draw with similar efforts focused on getting interned to small Indian villages..


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
Not really my problem (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by marcos on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 05:41:44 AM EST

I did not decide to write about the need in Africa for internet. I wrote about how it can technologically be done. Of course, westerners who have never in their live lived in any of these countries know a lot more than me of course, and start educating me about how Africans are starving and dying, and we need to send them food right now before they die.

I don't care for this opinion, and I am not going to make an effort to correct your opinion. If you want to continue believing that, your problem.

My article stands on its feet, because it is about a last mile solution for 3rd world countries. If you wish to go off on a tangent, then do so, but don't imply that my article should neccesarily have foreseen and contained all possible tangents that people would decide to go off on.

I am not talking about Africa in particular here, I just happen to live in Africa, and so know a bit about the continent.

[ Parent ]

You can't separate demand and implementation (2.00 / 2) (#27)
by gbroiles on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 10:09:46 AM EST

.. because implementation has a cost, in terms of investment and human effort, and if the cost for a given implementation is greater than the demand implied by spreading that cost over the users, the entire project is a big waste of time.

That's the basic problem with your idea - you're ignoring economic feasibility, and trying to argue that because something is possible, or might be possible, that it's a good idea.

[ Parent ]

Please reread the article (3.50 / 2) (#28)
by marcos on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 11:05:32 AM EST

I speak about keeping costs down. And like I have already commented a number of times, the demand and the money is there. There is also a huge market there: I am sure you are one of those who would say: ohh! Africans don't need cellphones! They need food!

Well, the people who didn't say that, but went to build networks in just 6 countries are turning over profits that are almost 1/2 a billion US $s each year. Never underestimate the mass market.

[ Parent ]

How big is the market? (1.33 / 3) (#32)
by gbroiles on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 02:30:13 PM EST

You keep evading the question. How many people do you think are going to want internet access, and how much are they prepared to spend?

Hint: a helpful answer will have numbers in it. Here are some examples of numbers: five, four hundred, three thousand, one million. Here is an example that doesn't have a number: "huge".

Like I said in my first comment, I don't think the number is going to be very big, and I think comparisons to the adoption curves for TV and cellphones are not good analogues, because TV and cellphones don't require the same level of education and capital investment on an individual basis (ignoring net cafes) that individual net access does.

[ Parent ]

Since we're bragging (1.92 / 14) (#31)
by SanSeveroPrince on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 02:29:29 PM EST

If you don't care for my opinion, and you have no intention of changing my mind, why reply to it? Oh, I see. You're an asshole.

I have lived in both Nigeria and South Africa, for five and one years respectively. So drop the class act, neighbour.

If I remember correctly, indigenous people complained more about the lack of bread than lack wireless internet access.

Since you're in the market for useful, in depth articles, why don't you write one on wireless access from the bottom of the sea or, even better, from the depth of your well enlarged bowels?


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
No need to get petty (4.33 / 3) (#39)
by marcos on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 03:13:41 PM EST

I suggest you go back to the Africa you were in with bread and feed the clamouring masses. After you have done that, bring them medicines. After you have done that, overthrow the government and install a stable government. After you have done that, perform an economic miracle and make the local population wealthy.

Internet they will need in 2 million years perhaps, when they develop from lower primates to human beings.

[ Parent ]

Technological solution to a social problem (2.00 / 1) (#44)
by Eight Star on Sat Nov 30, 2002 at 12:57:39 AM EST

Why do you think Rusty cat's get fed?

Because Rusty can come on K5 and tell us his cats are starving and give us a paypal link to click on.

I wonder how things would change if the diary section began to be filled with people who are depressed because their children had starved to death? Sometimes a username and a paragraph is all it takes to put a human face on an issue.

[ Parent ]

Distance issues (3.33 / 3) (#10)
by tftp on Thu Nov 28, 2002 at 08:20:25 PM EST

The range of the radios reach 20-30 kilometers

This is possible (in 2.4 GHz band, using COTS equipment) only if you have high gain antennas on both ends. Note: the "powerful transmitter" won't save the day, because you'd need to have such transmitter on both ends of the link, and it would be too expensive (let alone illegal.)

But precise positioning of antennas with error less than half a degree requires stable, concrete towers (or a roof of a concrete building). You can not get there by tying an old satellite dish to a tree.

Omnidirectional antennas and a mesh of smaller, less powerful devices would be more appropriate. There are millions of pages of dissertations written on this subject, and I doubt that a small blurb on k5 can offer a better solution.

Generally, your point - that anyone can get a single sat uplink and share it in any way s/he wants - is fairly obvious and clearly correct. But it is not new either. What is needed to implement -any- networking initiative is, actually, commitment, approval and participation of local people. But as I see, many of them are still busy rioting...

Not Illegal (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by MyrddinE on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 04:40:57 AM EST

He specifically mentioned that EM is a lot less controlled in these countries. In other words, you can use 2Ghz, or 4Ghz, or 1.3Ghz, or whatever spectrum that strikes your fancy, and most of the time the only thing you need to worry about is interference.

Because of this, I'd think some kind of adjustable 'spread spectrum' solution that can vary it's range considerably would be nice.

[ Parent ]

Illegal, but not enforced (3.00 / 1) (#41)
by tftp on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 08:30:26 PM EST

I noticed that. But the specs on 802.11 were not just randomly chosen by a gorilla in a zoo. They make sense, because what you want to accomplish is a combination of coverage and [lack of] interference, with many factors taken into account.

If so, other countries are likely to pick the same specs. Not only they save big $$$ by using already existing, tested and true standard, they also enable the country to buy COTS devices, and to manufacture them (now or later). There is simply no good reason for a country to invent a standard that is different from what other countries already use and like.

As I said, if a 3rd world country adopts a unique standard, it won't get any COTS devices, unless it pays a lot of money to develop, test and deliver a small number of those special cards. I don't think it is a realistic scenario, at least because those countries have limited finances.

What is most likely is that the country officially adopted some global standard, but does not enforce it. This means that the user indeed can use unlicensed spectrums and illegal power outputs without a real risk of being caught.

However this is not a good advice to offer. The law can be (and is) selectively enforced. After several people are made scapegoats and jailed, the rest of the illegal infrastructure will crumble just out of fear. That is what {RI,MP}AA is trying to do - and not without success.

[ Parent ]

unless of course (2.50 / 4) (#11)
by turmeric on Thu Nov 28, 2002 at 08:23:40 PM EST

we find out that streaming 1000 watt ghz frequencies through human bodies causes cancer or other health problems.

no (3.50 / 2) (#34)
by jungleboogie on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 02:33:54 PM EST

1000 watt 2.4 ghz is what a high power microwave uses to cook your food. that gets your burrito hot and steaming in 30 seconds. what you should worry about is how the 1 watt 2.4ghz phones or .6 watt 900 mhz phones affect your brain when you hold them next to your head for extended periods of time.

[ Parent ]
Microwaves .... (4.00 / 1) (#45)
by ukryule on Sat Nov 30, 2002 at 01:53:18 AM EST

... operate at 2.4GHz because that's (a harmonic of) the resonant frequency of water. In other words this frequency heats up water really efficiently - and your food (and you) are mostly made up of water.

Therefore, I'd be more worried about holding an 2.4GHz VoIP phone to my head for long periods than I would be holding my 900MHz mobile.

[ Parent ]

Yep (none / 0) (#56)
by vile on Mon Dec 02, 2002 at 02:21:19 AM EST

That should be a fair estimate. Better yet, use a corded phone. Much safer. And remember not to stick your head in front of your microwave to see how your food is doing.. it could be a bad thing (tm).

The money is in the treatment, not the cure.
[ Parent ]
sure it will (1.00 / 1) (#36)
by vile on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 03:00:19 PM EST

If it's sitting right next to you. the jungle boogie said it best.

The money is in the treatment, not the cure.
[ Parent ]
It isn't a 3rd world country (3.80 / 5) (#12)
by ukryule on Thu Nov 28, 2002 at 09:30:30 PM EST

But some rural communities in the UK have been implementing this. This Guardian article explains about the EdenFaster project, where they're using wireless to connect a community of about 10000 to a DSL connection 30 miles away.

It doesn't go into much on the technical side, but it might give you a few pointers ...

That's how my broadband is (4.80 / 5) (#13)
by fluffy grue on Thu Nov 28, 2002 at 11:20:27 PM EST

My broadband ISP uses the "single central 802.11b hub with high-gain antennas approach." You can read my diary to see how that's working out for me...

The only problems I've had have been trouble with the upstream's routers (which have finally been fixed). However, I live in a city which is sunny and non-windy 99% of the time, but even the rare times that it does rain or gust, the connection stays up just fine.

However, you can't simply have "a grid" of 802.11 hubs. 802.11 doesn't work that way. It's designed in pretty much the same way as the cellphone network - you have an access point (antenna, tower, etc.) which is hooked up to a wired network. Just as cellphone towers don't relay packets directly to other cellphone towers, 802.11 typically doesn't have any sort of in-air routing stuff; for ad-hoc networks, typically the wireless devices can only transmit/receive to/from other devices in the network which are within range. There's been some research-level work into ad-hoc routing in wireless networks, but it's all very experimental, and AFAIK none of the current commercially-available stuff supports it. Even finding 802.11 access points which can act as bridges between different networks is difficult (though obviously it's not nonexistent, as my uplink at home works exactly that way).

Regardless, I do think that 802.11 has the potential to be used for a nice pervasive "Internet anywhere" way, and at present it's pretty good for point-to-point stuff (i.e. replacing the copper pair in a DSL connection), but it has a long way to go before it can really be used in the way you describe. IPv6 will supposedly help a lot with the routing issues, though (but getting anything other than hand-wavey explanations why is similarly difficult).
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

mesh networks (4.00 / 1) (#49)
by Mindcrym on Sat Nov 30, 2002 at 11:34:23 PM EST

The company Mesh Networks has a technology they call, not surprisingly, mesh networking. This is supposed to do ad-hoc wireless routing. Looks pretty interesting, although I've never used it myself.

[ Parent ]
Cool (2.00 / 1) (#50)
by fluffy grue on Sun Dec 01, 2002 at 02:14:53 AM EST

I wonder how well it'd work in real life, rather than just on paper...
"Is a sentence fragment" is a sentence fragment.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Packet radio (4.40 / 5) (#14)
by kjb on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 02:52:58 AM EST

I recall reading something recently (it may have been on K5 I don't remember) about remote locations in Africa using Packet Radio for for email and internet connectivit

Now watch this drive.

One thing (3.87 / 8) (#29)
by marcos on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 11:11:39 AM EST

I'd like it if we stayed away from the irrelevant "the only thing that 3rd world people need is food" arguments, as they bring absolutely nothing to this issue. Look at it as a technological problem, and simply accept that the Internet is needed in places that are not the west.

um, why exactly? (1.00 / 3) (#40)
by moron on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 07:56:43 PM EST

Other than perhaps a lack of pr0n, why exactly is Internet access so crucial to these folks that it would take precedence over a warm meal and disease free drinking water?

I'm actively on the Internet often 8 to 12 hours a day but it wasn't like my life was misery in the late 80s before I discovered Usenet and email.  Hmmm.  Food or UCE?  Not a hard choice.

IMHO of course.


culture: http://industrial.org
music: http://deterrent.net
code: http://codegrunt.com

[ Parent ]

Here's some answers (4.75 / 4) (#42)
by ukryule on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 11:14:20 PM EST

Because not every African is starving. Just because we only here about Africa when there's a riot or a drought, that doesn't mean that that's the norm.

Because education is important. How is the country going to develop if the kids are not taught properly. Computers are (potentially) a great tool for that, teaching people to live in a computer based world is useful, and computing is a comparatively easy industry for a bright poor kid to get into.

Because communication is important. Rural communities could use them to find out the best place to sell their stuff, how other communities dealt with some parasite that is destroying their crops, how the weather will affect them.

Because technology sometimes 'skips a generation' in these countries. TVs only appeared in numbers with the advent of satellite in many places, mobile phones are taking off where landlines are really uncommon. Who's to say that wireless computing won't take off?

Because it might help democracy (OK, this one's a bit of a stretch, but important). One of the reasons democracy isn't working in a lot of 3rd world countries is because people are not informed about it, and feel remote from the politicians and decisions. If it's easy via computer to find out what your local rep has done for you (and for him to find out what he needs to do), then things could change.

Because this stuff could be cheap. People throw away 3 year old computers, it's a problem what to do with all this old kit.

Because using and learning about computers doesn't seem to be harming India and China.

Because every Africa country has a huge range of diverse communities (rich urban, poor urban, rich rural, poor rural, underdeveloped places, well-developed places, places with plenty of food, places with no food, ...). Don't you think some of them might benefit?

I'm not saying that famine, disease, corruption and violence aren't all problem - obviously they are huge fundamental problems. However there are many more ways to help than just to give food and medicine.

P.S. Apologies if this has turned into a bit of a rant :)

[ Parent ]

One thing (1.50 / 4) (#33)
by gbroiles on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 02:33:17 PM EST

I'd like it if we stayed away from the silly "let's ignore economics and reality and fantasize about technology" argument, as it's pointless wanking. Look at it as a real-world problem, and simply accept that it's not possible to wish away problems you don't know how to solve.

God friggin damn it man (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by marcos on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 03:10:18 PM EST

You just cannot give up an argument if you can't force your opinion down someones throat, can you? Just give it up, and if you want to argue about how backwards Africa is, try someplace else.

Forget the economics, which I did not bring into the story at all, and stick with the technology.

[ Parent ]

Soekris (4.33 / 3) (#35)
by vile on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 02:45:26 PM EST

I have explored setting up a wireless network around town, taking advantage of the Soekris box. No fan. No moving parts. Multiple ethernet ports and a PCI board. Up to 64mb ram, and uses CompactFlash for storage.

It is a small, very reasonably priced box. Handles heat, cold and dusty areas very well. Perfect for dropping in a new pop.


Additionally, I've seen the box thrown into place as a nice little firewall.

The money is in the treatment, not the cure.
This is shameful (5.00 / 25) (#43)
by QuickFox on Sat Nov 30, 2002 at 12:51:29 AM EST

Reading these patronizing and prejudiced comments I'm almost ashamed to be a Kuro5hiner.

Only a few commenters try to answer the author's question. A majority are obsessively attacking him on an area that is not his expertise. And very obviously it's not the expertise of the attackers either. I'm not sure if you're trolling or what, but games like that are very inappropriate in this context.

Why this obsession that Third World countries should not have any modern amenities until their social and economic problems are solved? What's your point? It looks like you want them to live some kind of passive, poverty-stricken village life while receiving food handouts, staying passive until their poverty disappears.

But how is the poverty to disappear if they just stay passive like that?

We're talking about developing countries. For development you need infrastructure. That means roads, telephones, trains, communication. Without infrastructure you can't solve the rest of the problems. So developing countries and aid programs invest heavily in infrastructure. What marcos is talking about may be a cheap and efficient alternative in this context. For development.

You keep insisting that there is no market for the Internet in those countries, and demand that marcos prove that there is. Just because most Nigerians are poor you insist that all Nigerians must be poor. What makes you think they're all the same?

Do you people think that Miami Beach and Harlem are the same thing? Do you think that New York City and the Grand Canyon are the same? So what makes you think that all places in Nigeria are the same?

I've been to a few developing countries and the cities I've seen have huge numbers of small enterprises and lots of good houses and lots of activity. The notion that these countries would consist solely of starving villagers is quite ridiculous. The world doesn't work that way! Maybe your American media like to portray the Third World that way. Maybe that image sells magazines or something. But that is not the full truth!

In one comment marcos says some 10 million Nigerians may be in the market for Internet services. Of course by Western standards this is a very small number for a country of 120 or 130 million people. However, 10 million people is more than the total population of my country of Sweden, which has around 9 million inhabitants. And Internet services are a very important market here. A market of 10 million people is really a very significant market.

Some of you mention the riots in Nigeria, claiming that people who riot over such issues will not accept the Internet, as if all Nigerians had one and the same opinion. How could everyone in a country have the same opinion? Trouble occurs in spots and groups. Did all Americans agree with the Seattle rioters?

Let me turn your argument around for a moment. Do you think that nobody in the US should be allowed luxuries like TV and mobile phones because you must first give housing to your homeless? Do you think nobody in the US will want to buy refrigerators and toasters unless the poor first get better schools and housing?

In any country there are different groups, different people, different markets.

However, all that is outside the scope of marcos's article. He didn't ask for your advice on market evaluation. He didn't consult you on socioeconomic analyses.

He just asked for some technical advice on networking. Can't you people just leave your prejudice aside and answer his question?

Unfortunately I don't know anything about 802.11.

Give a man a fish and he eats for one day. Teach him how to fish, and though he'll eat for a lifetime, he'll call you a miser for not giving him your fi

The basic problem here (2.00 / 5) (#48)
by gbroiles on Sat Nov 30, 2002 at 09:27:52 PM EST

is that the question the author really wants answered is posed in a distracting and confusing fashion about "third world countries". If you read through his responses, he's not interested in helping poor unfortunate famine victims, he wants to see middle-class kids in developing nations have the same access to Napster and Kazaa that middle-class kids in "first world" nations do. This isn't about third-world nations, it's about getting Internet access in an area that's not wired very well yet.

That's a familiar problem to lots of people, and if the problem were posed as "My hometown doesn't have local dialups nor DSL, and I really want to be able to IM my friends and play network games with them.", it might attract some answers in the technical vein that the author wanted without the political baggage attached to the whole "third world nations" thing. The problem as reformulated is actually pretty widespread across developing and developed countries, because there are lots of places which have low customer density (from an ISP's perspective, it's not important whether the empty spaces are millions of other uninterested people, or just trees and sheep) but those potential customers would really like to be on the net anyway.

Distracting? Famine? (5.00 / 2) (#51)
by QuickFox on Sun Dec 01, 2002 at 06:08:20 AM EST

Why do you feel that mentioning the Third World makes the article confusing and distracting? And why do you mention famine? The article says nothing about famine. Famine has nothing to do with the article or the question.

Do you mean that any mention of the Third World makes you automatically think of famine? Is this enough to make it confusing and distracting for you?

If this is the case, then this is really surprising to me.

Here in Sweden, when the Third World is mentioned, in most cases it's not about famine. Often it's about development, quite often in telephony, because one major provider of telephony infrastructure is Swedish (Ericsson). But other areas of development are also mentioned in the media. Other news about the Third World that we see often are about political issues and economy. Of course there are also news about famines sometimes. But I wouldn't say it dominates.

I can't see that the mention of the Third World in the article is distracting in any way. It's simply relevant. It means that there are certain differences from what you would have in rich countries. For example, you can make certain compromises in quality, if it will save on cost. But the compromises must not require a rich-country infrastructure for repairs. And radio frequency laws are different.

It's relevant. But distracting? I can't see it.

If you associate the words "Third World" so strongly with famine that it distracts you from reading the article, it's almost as if you and I lived in different worlds. Your media must be very different from ours. Amazing.

Give a man a fish and he eats for one day. Teach him how to fish, and though he'll eat for a lifetime, he'll call you a miser for not giving him your fi
[ Parent ]

Like I said - (2.00 / 1) (#55)
by gbroiles on Sun Dec 01, 2002 at 09:32:08 PM EST

the problem he mentions is orthogonal to the "third world" problem.

In my experience, people mention the "third world" aspect because they're looking for some sort of sympathy or charity or think that being poor gives them some sort of special moral status.

In this case, the author has finally decided to distance himself from that approach - which is sensible, since it's entirely unrelated to the real question - but then gets angry when people respond to information he included apparently seeking people's sympathy. The question he poses is technically identical to "I can't seem to get Internet access when I'm at my family's ski chalet outside of Lake Tahoe. I sure miss downloading warez after a long day on the slopes before I go sit in the hot tub. The phone company says I'm too far away from the CO to get DSL, and dialup is so passe'. Isn't there some other way? My friend lives a few miles away and he wants access, too. Maybe we could network ourselves with the neighbors until we get down the hill to someone who can get DSL?"

It is truly amazing that as soon as someone mentions the words "Africa" or "third world" people lose their ability to think critically and jump into Defend-The-Downtrodden Super-Patronizing mode - and it's even more amazing that some people actually seek that response, degrading as that must be.

[ Parent ]

Looking for sympathy? (4.00 / 1) (#57)
by marcos on Mon Dec 02, 2002 at 02:50:08 AM EST

I mentioned 3rd world, because some isssues are neccesary to be considered, primarily: cheapness, and non-control of radio frequencies. Also, availability of electricity.

Lokk man, just give up the argument. You know what they say about argueing on the internet...

[ Parent ]

I don't understand - (2.00 / 1) (#61)
by gbroiles on Mon Dec 02, 2002 at 03:12:56 PM EST

.. in this comment, you explain that there are plenty of middle-class people in the third world (well, you talked about Nigeria specifically, but said that you meant to discuss the entire third world) who have plenty of money to spend on "VCD players, big screen TVs, PCs, Satellite TV, cars, local and foreign movies, etc". Surely someone who can buy a big screen TV and a satellite dish can also buy an UPS and/or a couple of solar panels, so that would seem to eliminate the power problem, and you've already assured us that the cheapness problem is also unimportant to these nice middle class people.

So the remaining issue is the lack of regulatory control over the radio spectrum, and it seems like it would've been a lot better to say "How can I set up a wireless WAN or MAN if I don't have to worry about radio spectrum regulations?" .. like I said, as you've clarified the question at hand (e.g., no money problems, and that means there are no power problems), I don't see what it's got to do with the third world.

[ Parent ]

HAM or CB (3.50 / 2) (#54)
by failrate on Sun Dec 01, 2002 at 04:12:49 PM EST

I would suggest a "developing" country to use inexpensive HAM/CB radios, especially if speed is not an issue. No ISPs to deal with, either, however this approach would limit them to a sort of local Net. That isn't so bad, however, since they could link up with the international internet through some other access point and creates the appropriate beginning for a wireless network.

Voodoo Girl is da bomb!
Third World Communications (none / 0) (#63)
by jefu on Tue Dec 03, 2002 at 11:42:26 AM EST

First off, I think that making information available inexpensively to people in the third world is probably the most important thing that we can do for them - technologically, culturally, politically. Ideally with as little censorship and the like as possible.

I find the comments of some of the responders to this thread interesting - and in many cases I feel that they reveal as much about the poster as about the problem.

In particular, mentions of music sharing and porn.

In this vein, I just heard part of a program on NPR that talked of how porn has been a major part of every emergent medium since Gutenberg. So, if there's some porn floating around but it spurs development of the information infrastructure, so be it.

When someone says "get medical care to the people first", they dont say who will do it, how, nor who will pay - but with good information access, I can envisage a system in which students would be given a year or so of education in basic medical care and moved to villages and areas with none at all. If they had good communications (internetish, say) they could continue to study while there and even consult with doctors on an "as needed" basis. This would be much cheaper and more effective than trying to import trained medical care, or than trying to send students abroad. it.

I don't know that much about the technical details of wireless networking (indeed am struggling to get an 802.11 usb port working in linux), but I know a bit about networking.

Within a village or town, wireless is easy enough to build and will likely grow - I don't know how it would work, but something like cellular routing with each machine contacting others in range and sharing traffic with them certainly sounds feasible. And it could likely be made nicely redundant and tolerant to the loss of access points.

At the big city level, there is likely to be communications infrastructure available.

So the real problems lie in connecting the villages and otherwise geograpically isolated stations with each other or to some node serving as a hub.

At the outset, uplink speed is not likely to be that important so satellite downlinks are tempting. Of course we need to consider the cost of the satellite, which could be shared with other countries and is likely to be more than reasonable when amortized over the population it serves. Third world countries are likely to be less than enthusiastic about such an outlay, but it would likely be cheaper than building on-the-ground infrastructure.

I've come to think that even "receive-only" access could be useful if there is storage to save information for a few days (or longer). News, weather, music, video, lessons for the schools, commodity pricing information, and so on could all be sent out, stored on a local machine or network, then viewed and browsed more or less interactively by users over the next few days. The utility is less evident, but it could even mirror interactive discussions (ala irc). This could provide a much better window onto the information world than may be currently available, and might further serve as an incentive to develop more interactive access.

If receive only access is useful, then any layer of uplinking is likely to make it more so. Indeed if it takes a day to send a message upstream in an otherwise receive-only situation, the answer is still likely to arrive more quickly, and with more information, than it would otherwise. In this light, even very low bit rate communications upstream (via radio links, slow phone lines or whatever) could be combined with efficient downstream links to provide decent information access to those who would otherwise lack it.

Third world townships 802.11 comms (none / 0) (#64)
by rsahorn on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:55:55 AM EST

A further consideration would be the restriction of 802.11 communications over a threshold power rating set by the relevant governments. Particularly if the signal is over a public thoroughfare. Any comments on the health risk posed by 802.11 boosted signal?

Coverage of 3rd world townships with wireless Internet services | 64 comments (61 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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