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Solar Wi-Fi To Bring Net to Developing Countries 162

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the let-the-sun-shine-in dept.
JLavezzo writes "TreeHugger.com has an article today on a new wifi development organization: MIT and the UN have teamed up to provide kids living in the world's least developed nations $100 laptops, their 2 watts of juice provided by hand or foot crank. Cool, but - and this was one of Bill Gates' criticisms - what's a computer without internet access? Enter Green Wi-Fi, a non-profit that seeks to provide 'last mile internet access with nothing more than a single broadband internet connection, rooftops and the sun.' Their wi-fi access nodes, which consist of a small solar panel, a heavy-duty battery, and a router, can be linked together to extend one internet connection into a larger network. The two guys who started the company - Bruce Baikie and Marc Pomerleau - happen to be veterans of Sun Microsystems. Deployment is set to start in India at the end of this summer."
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Solar Wi-Fi To Bring Net to Developing Countries

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 03, 2006 @08:54PM (#15843854)
    Now not only can citizens of impoverished countries starve due to gross mismanagement of funds by their governments (who are themselves living very well off of foreign aid intended for the citizens) but they can IM each other about who has more flies.
    • or maybe they can im each other about the fact that a food drop is going down @ #location and they maybe could walk there and pick up a box/bag of food
      or maybe get online and find a way to make a solar still (boil water and get it to condense correctly and any water is pure water)

      to live well you need to feed
      mind ---- we are here
      body --- this needs work and some fat punks to be Lion Food
      "soul" ---- this is the work of "The Church"
      so in your case unless you are planning on loading a C130 with food and fly
      • 1. The metaphysical study of the origin and the nature of the universe.
        In my cosmology, I can't find a distinction between mind and soul in the fashion that you do.
        • Nor is there a clear division between mind and body, dear hackwrench. But we can make provisional distinctions to talk about things such as bodies, minds, souls, spoons.

          Oh, by the way, I think you'd have a stronger comment if you tried it like this:

          In my cosmology, I can't find a distinction between mind and soul in the fashion that you do, you insensitive clod!!

          Better, don't you think?
        • In my cosmology, there is no soul, and we are all just meatbags running organic programs that convince us that we matter. Report to the factory for processing into soylent green.
      • Therefore, people who don't go to church can not live well. That's so obviously true! You win the troll award!
        • No, it's people that don't go to "the Church". So you have to make sure you go to the right one, or you're totally screwed. You might as well sleep in on Sunday and spend the rest of the day fornicating and taking drugs, since you'll be going to hell anyway.

          P.S. I, and only I, can tell you which Church is the right one, but you'll have to sign up for my newsletter first, before I deem you worthy of such knowledge.
          • So you have to make sure you go to the right one, or you're totally screwed. You might as well sleep in on Sunday and spend the rest of the day fornicating and taking drugs, since you'll be going to hell anyway.

            No, you got it wrong.
            The fact that each church is contradictory about which is the "saving-one", means only one thing :
            there's no way to be safe. The only question that matters is who is going to be eaten first [strtok.net] once the older gods come as the stars predicted.

            (And remember : vote for Cthulhu as presid [cthulhu.org]

      • In many such communities, people already communicate with each other quite well: the members of many villages are in mutual communication far more than, say, the residents of a typical urban flat or condo.

        The law of unintended consequences may come into play: electronic communications technologies can erode social/cultural practices that already exist. Is it really an improvement that a few people IM each other the location of a "food drop" (or, more accurately, a food distribution site - though this is not
        • Well, the law of unintended consequences certainly does come into play, however if we were to make a cost/benefit analysis we'd probably find out that it's better to have one MORE way to communicate, wouldn't we. This is more about providing choice than forcing a certain way over another. The "residents of a typical urban flat or condo" live in the way they WANT - nobody forced them (or me) to not communicate with their neighbours, etc. It's all about choice, really, just like with Negroponte's OLPC project
          • Having more than one way to communicate is not always ideal. Organizations (and a rural village with a fairly unified economy and shared markets/infrastructure can be considered an "organization") often do better to keep communications fairly simple: anyone who has implemented Sarbanes-Oxley compliance can attest to that. Think about your own desktop" how many IM protocols do you want? Is it really easier to monitor several voice-mailboxes, multiple protocols, paper and electronic media? Is it really better
            • Unifying IM protocols makes sense because you have multiple ways of doing the same thing. Unifying IM and email would not make sense (although MSN tries to), since they are the orthogonal. Email is a replacement for the letter, while IM is a replacement for the post-it note left on someone's desk.
    • by User 956 (568564) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:24PM (#15843965) Homepage
      Now not only can citizens of impoverished countries starve due to gross mismanagement of funds by their governments (who are themselves living very well off of foreign aid intended for the citizens) but they can IM each other about who has more flies.

      Not exactly. The number of flies in each location will stabilize, as the flies travel through the series of tubes that make up the internet. Don't get me wrong: the internet is not a truck. So don't even think that it is.
      • Not only that, but if the people are starving (and what people outside of the U.S., Europe, and a couple of Asian Nations aren't), then the files will be skinnier and will move thru the tubes more easily. Thus, file equilibrium through T2T file sharing will happen quicker and with a lot less lube.
    • by grcumb (781340) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @11:00PM (#15844288) Homepage Journal
      "Now not only can citizens of impoverished countries starve due to gross mismanagement of funds by their governments (who are themselves living very well off of foreign aid intended for the citizens) but they can IM each other about who has more flies."

      I know you think you're being darkly humourous (or maybe just fasionably cynical - it's hard to tell), but there's a bit of truth in what you say.

      I work on a project whose aim is very directly pointed at improving communications so that people in rural areas can actually find out just how bad things are in the capital. One of the biggest problems we face here in terms of political reform is the fact that there's absolutely no follow-up, no accountability for elected officials. They buy votes with a few pots and pans and bags of rice, then disappear for four years. But if their villagers actually knew just how much money they were making (and wasting on their cronies), there would be hell to pay.

      So if someone with family in the city were to receive news (including, for example, photos of the MP in his fancy new car), it would be a lot harder for him to lie to them the next time around.

      It's not a complete solution, by any means. We only need to look at the state of politics in our own so-called developed countries for evidence. But it's a good start, and a vast improvement on the utter lack of communications capacity that most places in the world have to deal with today.

      • by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Friday August 04, 2006 @02:38AM (#15844949) Homepage
        I know a guy in Nepal working as a teacher.

        In the village where he teaches, a year or two back they got hold of a single mobile phone.

        There's no electricity in the village. Nor is there mobile-phone coverage. Nevertheless, it has paid for itself a thousand times over.

        It goes like this.

        They grow and sell various farm-products. They sell most of their stuff on a market 4 hours walk away. It's possible to recharge the mobile-phone at the market. There's a spot with mobile-phone coverage half an hours walk from the village.

        End effect ? The villagers know the prices at the market, what is in high demand and what has oversupply so the prices are low. This enables them to make more intelligent choices about what to bring to the market at which times.

        End effect ? The market is better supplied. They are better paid.

        Knowledge is power.

    • Now not only can citizens of impoverished countries starve due to gross mismanagement of funds by their governments (who are themselves living very well off of foreign aid intended for the citizens) but they can IM each other about who has more flies.

      Yes, what would citzens of a third world country want with INFRASTRUCTURE!
      It's madness I tell you. Next thing they'll be setting up businesses and making money!
      They're starving, how could that *possibly* help them.
  • by bcat24 (914105) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @08:55PM (#15843859) Homepage Journal
    If they already have problems with power, etc., how will they get a broadband Internet connection? I guess you could use WDS or something to extend the range, but I don't think that's a very practical solution.
  • It's a Sunny day (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Joebert (946227)
    What's with people leaving Sun Microsystems & starting theese great projects to bring people & information together ?

    Didn't someone on the top of Googles command chain come from Sun ?

    Sun may produce some seemingly "bloated" stuff, but they damn sure produce some fine people also.
  • by Harmonious Botch (921977) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @08:58PM (#15843871) Homepage Journal
    Now Indians will have to deal with Indian tech support.
    • Now Indians will have to deal with Indian tech support.
      No, justice must prevail. Tech support for all calls originating in India will be rerouted to rural Alabama, Mississippi, and deepest Brooklyn. For your convenience, all helpdesk employees will have a comprehensive binder that covers all congingencies. It will be written, of course, in Hindi.
  • by rufusdufus (450462) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:03PM (#15843888)
    Its hard to believe that anyone who had actually visited some of the least developed countries could post something about computers and WiFi to help them out. When I was in Malawi for example, the people didn't know what electricity was. There was only one water spigot in the entire village, at the whitemans church. The only piece of technology they could recognize was my wristwatch, which they were in awe over. My $1000 digital camera? They couldn't even 'see' it: they had no reference as to what it was, might was well have been a rock.
    They dont even have shoes. These people's most valuable posessions are sticks. I'm not kidding. Sticks are fuel for cookfires. They walk all day with a hundred pound of sticks on their back, with no shoes, no roads.

    Now, these people cant read either. Can you not see how pretentious it is to expect them to value a laptop with WiFi when they are starving and can't read?
    Get them some shoes first. That will help them a lot more.

    • by Canadian_Daemon (642176) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:08PM (#15843909)
      please refer to any of the past OLPC post. These are not countries in extreme poverty. They have an infrastructure in plance. The projects are designed to break the cycle of poverty. Unless you teach these people to survive in a 21st century workplace, you can give them all the aid you want and it will not help. I repeat, BREAK THE CYCLE OF POVERTY, and the programs are not designed for countries with extreme poverty, but ones with an infrastructure in place
    • "One laptop per kid" isn't necessary. Even if there's only a single connected computer in the whole village, it will vastly expand their horizons.

      One of the great tragedies of poor countries is that a little knowledge could help them make much better use of their limited resources. If I couldn't afford a pair of shoes, I'd google for information about making some... if I had access to the Net.

      • If I couldn't afford a pair of shoes, I'd google for information about making some... if I had access to the Net.

        In traditional societies, crafts such as shoemaking are taught to apprentices willing to dedicate several years to the task.

        Your shortcut assumes, in rough order:

        That the man without shoes is in good health, with no relevant physical or mental disabilites.

        That he has the free time to master a skilled trade. That he is computer-literate.

        That the craft can be mastered without hands-on instru

        • There's also the question of network effects: the shoes that an African villager might learn how to make on the internet might not be the ones most appropriate to his environment, and the reliance on the laptop could, in fact, reduce the amount of local cultural transfer by which he could actually learn how to make shoes from a neighbor.

          I think that technology can be helpful and integrated well: it's just that the very OLPC model is so wrapped up in a myopic view of culture and society, that I think it is a
    • The key to advancement is education. Perhaps rather than spending $100 to feed a person for a few months they're spending $100 to teach them how to help themselves. I understand that some areas are too underdeveloped for this to be helpful, but in others this is exactly what they need.

      Knowlege is power. I want to see shoes on their feet and food in their stomachs too, but an intermediate step - education - could have a much longer lasting and widespread benefit.
    • by apflwr3 (974301) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:32PM (#15843993)
      I find it hard to believe that you made it to a country as remote as Malawi without travelling through areas that had roads, buildings, plumbing and power-- but the inhabitants live in such poverty that access to a computer is an impossible dream and the best job they could hope for is a Nike sweatshop. This program is for them-- the parts of the "Third World" that are 50 years behind, not 500.
    • Not all nations are so technologically deficient. Some nations, like the Philippines or various Eastern European nations, have some semblance of a modern industrialized nation, but are still, for the most part, extremely impoverished. Projects like this are most important for such nations.
    • Solar Cooking (Score:4, Informative)

      by Shajenko42 (627901) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @10:52PM (#15844255)
      This is why the people who are promoting Solar Cooking [solarcooking.org] are doing so in third world countries. Solar cooking means they don't have to spend so much time looking for firewood, and they can keep their trees. Plus, it helps stave off global warming a little bit.
    • Hint: Not all regions and countries are identical.

      There are places like you describe. Those aren't likely to be the first targets of such projects.

      Education is however the only solution. Water. Food. Education. That's about the priority. You can not solve peoples problems for them for ever. You can however help them learn how to solve them themselves. A much much much better use of resources.

  • by rkcallaghan (858110) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:05PM (#15843897)
    For both out of range "country" areas (some of the most beautiful lands you'll ever see, btw.); and simple urban expansion. Maybe something similar to this could spur an adoption of solar panels on homes that could take a dent out of our energy use enough to stop rolling blackouts. Imagine if you could, buying/installing a system on your home that would not only cut your energy bill, but give you free high speed wifi to boot. Most states have a buyback system on any energy you produce, and it wouldn't take much energy "sold back" to pay for the cost of broadband and a profit for the maintainers.

    ~Rebecca
    • Solar cells are really bitchin', but it takes a very long time to make your money back or save money on electricity equal to the initial cost of the units, which is rather prohibitive for most people. Small applications, like these little repeater/router stations is on an entirely different scale than powering one's home. If this weren't so, the simple economics of it would probably see cells installed on all new homes. Not the best link, but the best one I could find in two minutes: http://www.technolog [technologyreview.com]
      • If you're already on the grid, then yes, the payback period for photovoltaic panels is a few years or more. But weighed against the expense of running wires to a remote location, the initial cost of PV is vastly less in a lot of cases. When you include maintenance expenses, it's a no-brainer.

        (The word "solar" describes so many types of energy, referring specifically to photovoltaic panels helps avoid confusion with things like solar heat. Really, all biomass fuels, including petroleum, started as solar, and
      • Aye, it is true, its a different scale. However, please note that I didn't say "power your home with one device". In many cases with technology, it takes one "killer app" (to use a software term) to turn a piece of tech from a gimmick to mainstream. Look at the radio, once a military-only item. Or all around you, PCs, cell phones, etc, all of these things are tech that was once unreachable by the peasants.

        A device like this could make a real industry for solar (photovoltaic, specifically, as another
    • Hey Green Wi-Fi people, if you're listening, I agree with the parent poster. How about you put the schematics for your designs online so we can all build these? Open Source philosophy and all that, the more of us building them the more eyes and hands to find improvements and bug fixing... I'm helping two community networks in the UK where they are really concerned about ecological issues and they've actually already asked me if they could power their roof top access points by solar energy. I think you could
    • Maybe something similar to this could spur an adoption of solar panels on homes that could take a dent out of our energy use enough to stop rolling blackouts.

      Incidentally, I don't know which blackouts you're talking about, but the instructor of my x86 assembler class works at Sunsweet in Yuba City doing their industrial automation, and part of his job is to constantly monitor a webpage (whose url I do not have right now, sigh) that tells you what the utilization of the California power grid looks like.

  • by Shihar (153932) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:08PM (#15843907)
    The complaints are coming, so let me just preempt them. Yes, money should be spent on feeding people. Yes, they need food, water, and medical care first and foremost. The problem is that the basic necessities of life are not enough.

    The rich nations of the world could divert massive portions of their GDP to feed the impoverished world. Even if you could political find the will to do this, it would solve nothing. Poverty is a symptom of a much larger problem. The core of the problem lies in education. If they can be educated, they can save themselves. Hence, things like cheap Wi-fi while certainly is not a silver bullet, it at least begins to pick away at the problem.

    Education is the key. With education and access to information other problems can start be solved. Good democratic governance absolutely demands an education population that is able to vote outside of tribal ties. Educated leaders are need to tackle both social and economic problems, and not just in government, but in business as well. The core of a functional democratic government is an educated population. We can feed the impoverished nations of the world from now until the end of time, but until educated leaders step up they will remain impoverished.

    So yes to those that will surely complain about this "waste" of money, these people need food and clean water. Food and water is not the cure though. Education, information, a fiscal boost once good governance is in place are the solution. Throwing money at the worlds poor just to feed them is like pumping blood into a man with a severed artery; the problem isn't that he is running out of blood, the problem is that he has a severed artery.
    • Yes, but what about food and water?

      Won't somebody please think of the children?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I'm going to play Devil's Advocate. I turned out fine by learning from books. Not that I'm jealous, but how many MORE books could you provide with 100 dollars? I'm not talking science and math, but also cultural books. Let them learn about the world rather than post to MySpace. In the right hands the Internet is a useful tool, sure, but 99.999% of the shit on here is just that, shit. Lookit the aforementioned MySpace. There's popups, viruses, and advertising. This is a novel idea, sure, but at best that's a
    • I'm on the fence about it myself. I see it as a good idea in some ways and a waste in others.

      Classically the reason these super poor regions are so poor is either lack of resources or people with power come in and exploit the resources. Exceptions exist I'm sure but this is the gist of it as far as I understand.

      The best way to help them is help them create a situation in which it becomes worthwhile to invest money in infastructure in said countries. Increasing education levels is a good way to do this.

      Th
    • Keeping people from starving in the several ongoing world disasters is not something we should abandon but that has nothing to do with why portable laptops and networks are good for "developing" nations.

      The simple justification for these projects is that it's cheaper education. Dead tree based information is expensive and fragile. Think of the tons of material required for every village to have even a rudimentary library. One leaky roof or arson can take it all away. Now realize how easily that libr

    • by An Onerous Coward (222037) on Friday August 04, 2006 @12:11AM (#15844532) Homepage
      We could divert a major fraction of our GDP to feeding the billion starving people in the world. But we don't. The U.S. government spends less on development aid than its citizens spend on pornography. Worse, we spend waaaay more subsidizing our own agricultural industries, in order to protect them from competing with millions of slightly-better-than-subsistence farmers.

      Also, I consider the whole "good governance" mantra a cop-out. Yes, there are many corrupt countries to point to. But even the countries with good leadership are hamstrung by payments on old debts and irrational demands by the IMF. Too often, the cycle goes like this: the old regime is thrown out, replaced by someone who wants to make life better for a country. But to do that, they need money, because a government without money is just a bunch of people sitting around wearing poofy wigs. The IMF offers them a loan, which they really can't afford to pass up. But in order to get the loan, the IMF demands that they do things that will lead them to the Holy Grail of Economic Development: capital investment. The measures for attracting investment are simple, yet cruel: balance their budgets, privatize state-run institutions, and remove any restrictions on the flow of goods and capital into their country.

      Balancing the budget means cutting back on expensive programs that provide for the poor, the elderly, and the unemployed. Liberalized trade means that while people get cheaper goods, the gain comes at the cost of jobs, as the market wrings out the "inefficient" producers. Liberalized capital controls means that investment money pours into the country when times are good (causing inflation), and flees at the first sign of trouble. The newly privatized industries have meanwhile fallen into the hands of foreign investors, who frankly don't care if the industries are serving the needs of the country, so long as they're delivering 22% a year.

      The people look at the massive unemployment and the piecemeal sale of their country to foreigners, and they don't see good governance. Quite the opposite. So they throw the bums out, and the IMF just shakes its head and mutters about how sad it is that so many countries have such a shortage of good leadership.

      Compare those outcomes with the Asian economies, which are growing rapidly while steadfastly ignoring the IMF's advice and rejecting their loans.

      • Also, I consider the whole "good governance" mantra a cop-out.

        From my limited experience growing up in the Phillipines this is actually a real problem. Outside of the capital city, Manila, the governments to almost nothing. Even the ambulances are just used to drive officials who don't want to have to wait in traffic. The last president, Joseph Estrada, was an ex-movie actor who made Bush Jr. look like Einstine. I remember watching this dialogue in the morning news one day:

        News Reportor: Sir, what's your

        • I'm not denying that political corruption and incompetent leadership are problems, mind you. But I am saying that the western world unintentionally destabilizes even the better governments as it goes about pursuing its own policies and interests.

          An educated and informed populace can go a long way toward holding their government accountable. I hope The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer... I mean, The One Laptop Per Child Project can help make that happen.
    • by NerveGas (168686) on Friday August 04, 2006 @12:41AM (#15844646)
      This technology can help people escape poverty. Not long ago, I listend to an interview about the cellular phone networks in... some African nation. One where there's enough violence that the cellular companies won't go in there - the country built it itself. He talked about how much of a benefit it has had on the local economy - and not just because it gave the small, mom-and-pop shops run out of houses something (cell cards) to sell, but because it allowed rural farmers to find markets for their crops besides the (often dishonest) middlemen who came to them. It's benefiting the rich, yes, but the poor are benefiting more.

      I think that this might just work along those lines as well.
  • Hindenberg (Score:4, Interesting)

    by QuantumFTL (197300) * <justin@wick.gmail@com> on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:10PM (#15843918)
    What about Wifi Baloons [netstumbler.com]? This may become very cheap, and cover a much larger area.
  • by transporter_ii (986545) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:14PM (#15843928) Homepage
    I wish them luck. In my opinion, using wi-fi for this application is really pushing a technology way past what it was actually designed for. There are so many points of failure and a lot of equipment that comes so close to working perfectly...yet fails for unknown reasons. There are issues with bandwidth and interference from the limited channels (maybe over there with no FCC, they can one-up us on that one?).

    I was talking to someone who has also deployed wi-fi just the other day. His honest opinion of his equipment was that the companies selling wi-fi seem to be more interested in selling a lot of equipment than they were in spending the time to develop solid equipment that actually worked and worked solidly.

    Of course, I smell MESH networks, and nothing sounds cooler than a wireless MESH network...but in my experience, there is also a lot hype there that also falls flat when you actually try and deploy it.

    Of course, some of our problems have resulted in some crappy boards we were sold, but even if they were working 100%, I'm still less than impressed with wi-fi on a large scale like that.

    Transporter_ii
    • at work... It is a variation of something like a drinking game only it doesn't involve drinking. It works like this. Every time you hear someone mention the words "mailbox money" in the same sentence as wireless Internet, you must immediately pull out a knife and jab them in the stomach. Then, as fast as you can, you must find the closest available dumpster and throw the body in it. And hey, it is actually a lot more fun that it sounds. (To stay somewhat on topic, at least the people in India aren't go
    • by Myself (57572) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @10:06PM (#15844124) Journal
      You're exactly right, Wi-fi is a last-meter solution, and people are trying to use it for last-mile and more. It'd be wonderful to see a solar-powered wireless mesh network, but not running 802.11anything!

      What's interesting is that the Ricochet [wikispaces.com] network has already been designed, deployed, proven, mismarketed, and abandoned. Metricom's routing protocol was vastly superior to anything else in this space, and now YDI's got the patents locked up.

      Airespace was founded by a bunch of ex-Metricom brains, and it looks like they built many of the same smarts into the same [cisco.com] casing [wikispaces.com]. Then Airespace got bought by Cisco and they call it the 1500. I wouldn't mind playing with a few dozen of these.

      Anyway, if someone could convince YDI to open the intellectual property, that warehouse full of Ricochet poletops could be deployed anywhere in the world. The modems are cheap, the hardware is bulletproof, and did I mention they go a mile on the stock rubber ducks?
      • Ricochet was pretty neato but even the fastest "cricket" modems were butt-slow compared to wifi. Personally, I think the only real use for long-haul wifi is point to point, not omnidirectional cloud style. You need a device with at least three interfaces for that to be very useful, though.
      • Wi-fi is a last-meter solution, ...

        Actually, if you dig up the earliest docs on the Internet (ARPAnet), you'll find a lot of drawings of the intended use of the system. Most of them were totally wireless.

        Remember that the ARPAnet was a military project. The intent was electronic communication in battlefield conditions. You can't run wires between your tanks, planes, ships, and troops.

        More to the point, the suposedly-new "mesh" idea is just a rebranding of the original design. It was expected that people
        • Wi-fi is a last-meter solution, ...

          Actually, if you dig up the earliest docs on the Internet (ARPAnet), you'll find a lot of drawings of the intended use of the system. Most of them were totally wireless.

          Did you think you were contradicting me? Yes, the internet can function with lots of wireless links. I'm simply saying that the low-level radio layer, known specifically as wifi, eight oh two dot eleven, isn't suitable because it has problems with fairness, channel sharing, mac spoofing, and acks. Your poi

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I managed a huge wireless ISP using 802.11b, then later g as well, as well as 900MHz and 5.8Ghz gear. The "weird" problems all our competitors had, and you apparently had are all caused by not knowing what you are doing. Use quality components, including connectors and cable, and install them right and things will be great. Several of our wireless backbone links had better uptime than the fibre we used to connect our network to the internet.
    • Currently WiFi is the best technology we got for broadband internet access in remote regions. It is the only mass-produced high-bandwidth wireless standard around. And of course any mass-produced complex consumer grade electronics will have a low MTBF. But you have to pick and choose your hardware carefully whatever your project is and plan your maintenance strategy accordingly.

      Seems like you've had trouble with 'MESH networks'. MESH network is just a concept - you need to make an efford and have the engi

  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:23PM (#15843959) Journal
    But someone mentioned to me a thought expressed in some TV show or another (West Wing?), that what poor third world countries need are roads. That kind of struck me as having "the ring of truth" about it.

    Rule of law and basic economic freedom seem to provide the best means out of poverty, every time it is implemented, and roads might help that effort along.

    I know building the Interstate Highway system in the USA seems to have done wonders in a country that was doing well anyhow, but how about it? Aren't roads high tech enough to be sexy?

    After all, how do you deliver X (medicine, water purifiers, food, laptops and WiFi set-ups) without roads?

    On the other hand, the cynical side of me thinks... if you put solar powered anything that might have any other use... it will get stolen.

    Maybe you really do need "rule of law" first.

    • if you put solar powered anything that might have any other use... it will get stolen.
      Not if they're aren't any roads for the thief to get away ;)
    • And how exactly are sub-Saharan Africans going to build the roads? By melting tar in their cooking utensils over camp fires? Or do you propose we send over several dozen highway crews from the US at a time when we're not even adequately maintaining our own infrastructure?

      Construction of a robust transportation system assumes that you have machinery and expertise, both of which would be in very short supply in a developing country. The only way out of a situation like that, and I mean the ONLY way, is educ

      • I meant to say something about the Gates foundation spending money on mundane stuff like roads, instead of/in addition to the stuff they already do.

        And by "roads", I do mean literally roads, but also any other infrastructure that we westerners might overlook as "obvious". How about some more phone lines, etc.

        Maybe assasinate a few warlords on the sly, while you are at it. You know, basic stuff.

        • "I meant to say something about the Gates foundation spending money on mundane stuff like roads, instead of/in addition to the stuff they already do.... And by "roads", I do mean literally roads, but also any other infrastructure that we westerners might overlook as "obvious". How about some more phone lines, etc."

          You're absolutely right about basic infrastructure. Transport and communications are integral to a viable economy. This, by the way, is exactly why we need tools like solar powered wireless - to

      • Your response was simply pessimism masquerading as logic. Using your own thought process, how could we possibly educate that many people when we're barely even maintaining our own education infrastructure?

        The bottom line is that there's no simple bottom line. It takes a constant cycle of capital and education in order to grow an economy. You're more than welcome to debate how the capital should be spent and how the education should be accomplished, but it's useless to debate which should come first.

        As a
    • After all, how do you deliver X (medicine, water purifiers, food, laptops and WiFi set-ups) without roads?

      Trains. Ships. etc.

      Most countries don't have the same love affair Americans do, with cars.

      And in some places, like the Australian outback, the huge truck-trains go over primitive dirt roads constantly.

      The interstate system was important in the US because cars were primitive at the time. Their skinny wooden wheels couldn't handle soft dirt or mud.

      The problems of other countries can't be solved by just

      • The interstate system was important in the US because cars were primitive at the time. Their skinny wooden wheels couldn't handle soft dirt or mud.

        The interstate system was a project of the 1950's. Inflatable rubber tires were commonplace back then.

    • A further problem in many former colonies is that the existing infrastructure was geared towards exports to and imports from the colonial power. That means everything leading to the ports, with very little connecting interior areas to one another to foster internal development. Their infrastructure is geared towards exporting commodities & importing finished goods, not towards a rounded economy.
  • Isnt going to help (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Venim (846130)
    Unfortunately as many people have pointed out, most people in these impoverished countries have very little knowledge of modern electronics let alone electricity. Why would they spend $100 on a laptop instead of something they could use such as food? If they give people these laptops chances are they will sell them to try and get food. In the end, we could be better spending this research money on food. Get the picture :)?
  • According to a recent /. thread [slashdot.org] India has rejected the OLPC project, so how will a solar WiFi mesh create anything more than the ability for the rich to get access on their Lenovo's, Sony's and Toshiba's when they are doing a visit to the slums?
  • by TheNarrator (200498) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @10:27PM (#15844185)
    A man is in the desert dying of thirst. A guy on a camel comes up to him and offers him a jug of water for his diamonds which he gladly trades.

    An illterate family is dying of hunger somewhere in a Africa. Someone offers them a loaf of bread to melt down their free solar powered wi-fi station and latop as scrap metal. They gladly trade.

    That's the problem in these places where people are starving and illiterate. Any kind of infrastructure you put in is just going to be sold as scrap for food. This might not be the case in India, where people aren't starving to death and are not totally uneducated, but this kind of thing has happened over and over again in Africa. People put in an elaborate desert irrigation system to grow food and all the pipe fittings are stolen and sold as scrap metal.

  • Ever heard of Satellite Broadband [fcc.gov]? It's not as fast as fiber optic cabling but it works in remote areas.
  • Wizzy Digital Courier [wizzy.org.za] is a system that allows internet (email, web scrapes, anything that will move via UUCP) to be delivered - from a place that has conventional access to an isolated system or network. Some pretty pictures [wizzydigital.org] for you. The price point moves down to zero, with someone helpful upstream. Bandwidth is not too bad either - a USB stick can hold a lot more than you can transfer using dialup.
  • Wouldn't it make more sense to get these people some FOOD?!
    • Oh right, so you're sending them food. Enough to keep them from starving - enough to keep them alive. Then what? What are they supposed to do then? Sit around and thank you for keeping them alive and hoping that you don't stop the food shipments? With no connection to the world, no tangible skills, how are they supposed to then play a part in the world and make a sustainable living in return? Sure, they could go back to subsistence farming, but what happens next time a famine hits? Do you expect them to beg
  • Brilliant idea, although maybe the internet connection doesn't have to be always on - this is good for getting information in, but it could be expensive. Would basic needs be better met by just having a lot of recycled computers set up in a MAN sized wifi network - so that for example a doctor or local council could have a database of people and could therefore use this for planning things out and just co-ordinating local work? GnuMED? [gnumed.org]
  • If this short-range mesh networking is to work, the internet software needs to be adapted.

    Anything that your neighbor has pulled down from anywhere, or which has been forwarded through that system, should be cached for nearby users to get without going dozens of hops. This will be complicated by self-healing/dynamic routing of the mesh (i.e. content may be pulled down via different routes - splitting individual files).

    Combine that with a common portal that everyone goes to first, to increase the hit rate o

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