Using Mesh Wi-Fi software that sits on a range of popular devices, US tech policy intervention start-up X-Lab has created a way of rolling out local connectivity. With two working examples in Somaliland and
The software is called
Mesh technology started with a heated debate about how much the available bandwidth would degrade as more hops were added:"The debates were around how with every hop, the bandwidth reduced by half. We've clearly demonstrated that it goes down but not in a linear fashion. Also it's often faster in the network than it is outside the network."
One of the working projects is in rural Somaliland, which is as Meinrath puts it, "in the middle of nowhere." The connection to build the mesh network came through
With various high points like water towers, the network covered the school itself (including the boys' and girls' dorms) and surrounding areas. Hastings says in his blog account:" I wanted to use the full sense of the term and make file sharing among my students easy and manageable. In order to solve this communication problem I decided to rely less on the outside Internet and rely more on local applications installed on our servers".
"I found the solution to our inconsistent and slow Internet by installing OwnCloud, an open source alternative to Dropbox, on our local server. Now students could share homework assignments with me and other teachers without having to rely on the Internet at all."
The school currently has a satellite connection but this is only available on an occasional basis so it is largely a local network. Somaliland will before too long be connected to international fibre but Abaarso remain a remote desert location.
It is precisely these kind of remote locations that have little or no chance of getting mobile coverage in the medium to long term. Nevertheless this kind of local area network has the potential to offer a VoIP based local network that would greatly improve the lives of those within its coverage area.
The second of X-Lab's working projects covers an urban area in
The network serves as a platform for locally-hosted content, such as Wikipedia and Open Street Maps. Since the network was put up, a local entrepreneur has launched an online radio station with talk shows. Meinrath says he found out about it on
The community installed one network server with Open Street Maps of
The municipal government agreed to provide bandwidth for synchronization and proxy of particular sites (as providing an open connection to the Internet over the network would violate existing regulations). The community is planning to synchronize the existing Sayada web portal and the existing Sayada Wikimedia site, which are currently hosted in
According to a case study on the project written by organisation X-Lab comes out of (
"For the most part, throughput on single hop connections is very good. The maximum throughput on the PicoStation M2 units, under perfect conditions, is 32Mbits per second. Two of the well-connected single-hop links displayed good throughput numbers, 12.3Mbits per second on average. The discrepancy with the third single-hop link result of 3.6Mbits per second may result from a fluctuation in the link quality between two of the routers (SayadaLibre-4 and SayadaLibre- 3)".
Although Meinrath knows how many people are covered, he's not able to give user numbers as they are anxious not to use the network to be "surveilling the users." Nevertheless, he says that the use of applications on the network is in the hundreds and in some cases the thousands.
Is X-Lab looking to do more in
TV White Spaces has had a lot of airplay as an innovative, low-cost technology to improve access in Sub-Saharan Africa. This kind of Mesh Wi-Fi should also be added to the list for those African countries that want to use the most innovative technologies to crack providing low-cost Internet access.
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