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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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  • It's a Sunny day (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Joebert (946227) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @08:57PM (#15843866) Homepage
    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 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
  • Hindenberg (Score:4, Interesting)

    by QuantumFTL (197300) * <justin.wickNO@SPAMgmail.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 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?
  • 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.
  • 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 grcumb (781340) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @11:24PM (#15844376) Homepage Journal
    "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 bootstrap communications in areas where 'proper' infrastructure of the kind you see in North America or western Europe is just plain impossible.

    You'll be glad to know, by the way, that the US is devoting USD 68 million to the country where I work to do exactly that. It's building roads, airstrips and wharfs. By all accounts, it's one of the best-run development projects this country has seen since colonial times.

  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 04, 2006 @02:43AM (#15844958)
    the problem with this project is that it addresses the last mile without addressing the previous 20, 30, 40 miles. remote villages don't have internet connections, so there's nothing to share. what actually needs to happen is these guys need to combine their work with another project at UC Berkeley. [berkeley.edu]
    The UCB project has essentially taken off-the-shelf routers and expanded their range to 40 miles.
    The 802.11 networking standard, more commonly known as "Wi-Fi", is defined by a set of international standards that limit its range to about 200 feet. (This is why computer-toting travelers cluster in groups at Wi-Fi "hotspots" at airports and cafes, and why a laptop user on the street can horn in on Wi-Fi from a nearby house.)

    Brewer and his group first pinpointed the factors that make these standards ill-suited for long distance networking, then developed software to overcome the limitations. Combining their software with directional antennas and routers to send, receive and relay signals, the team has so far been able to obtain network speeds of up to six Mb/s at distances up to 40 miles.

    These speeds are about 100 times faster than dial-up speeds and carry 100 times as far as regular Wi-Fi. The technology allows anyone with about $800 for a pair of small computers with directional antennas to network with another location within 50 miles and in line of sight. If there happens to be a hill in the way, no problem: A couple more antennas at the high spot can relay the signal between stations.

Work continues in this area. -- DEC's SPR-Answering-Automaton

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