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Communications Technology

SolarNetOne Wants Stable Internet Connections For Developing Nations 73

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the where-there-is-no-internet dept.
There are many initiatives to bring tech to developing areas of the globe; things like OLPC, Geekcorps, and UN programs. One new approach from SolarNetOne strives to allow users in those developing areas to have access to an internet connection without having to depend on unreliable infrastructure. "Each SolarNetOne kit is a self-powered communications network. Energy is produced from a solar array sized to each locale's latitude and predominant weather conditions. The generated power is stored in a substantial battery array, and circuit breakers and electronics protect the gear from overloads and other perturbations. A basic kit includes five 'seats,' implemented as thin clients connected through a LAN to a central server. The networking gear also includes a long-range, omnidirectional WiFi access point, and a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) device. Each kit also includes all the cables and wires required to assemble the system, so few additional materials are required for an installation."
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SolarNetOne Wants Stable Internet Connections For Developing Nations

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  • by Palestrina (715471) * on Thursday July 02, 2009 @10:47AM (#28557753) Homepage

    Think of it this way, before 2000, or so, most people in the developed countries were not connected to the internet either. But that did not prevent us from attaining a high level of education, standard of living, etc. We landed a man on the moon with most engineers still using slide rules!

    So I'm not buying it that the life of the average African would be substantially improved by their ability to download videos from YouTube. The article uses the example of Rwanda, that only 1% of the population can connect to the internet. OK, that is very low, I admit. But maybe decades of genocidal tribal warfare might also be a factor here, and addressing the root causes might a higher priority than the ability to set up a Facebook page.

    I think it comes down to the basics: pubic safety, rule of law, market structures, literacy, infrastructure, etc. A connection to the internet can certainly help, in some cases. But in no way is it a necessity. Lower tech solutions may be more robust and effective, e.g., long distance shortwave radios, packet radio BBS's, etc.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)
      While I agree with you, there are also some things to be gained from having access to the internet. For example how many people would care about the situation in Iran if Iran had no internet? The internet lets people empathize with others around the world and allows for new ideas to be shared that might help create a revolution. When the poor villages in Africa realize that their tribal overlords aren't helping them, that food isn't as scarce as they think it is, change will happen.
      • by Palestrina (715471) * on Thursday July 02, 2009 @11:01AM (#28557959) Homepage

        Didn't word of Tienanmen Square spread via fax machines?

        My point is if you are looking for the greatest impact, then your idea of robustness needs to encompass more than the physical properties of the device. You're more likely to fail for lack of training, spare parts, support, basic infrastructure, etc. I think shortwave radio is far more robust. That is what we whip out in hurricanes, etc., when all the basic infrastructure is down. It is what works when nothing else does.

        If I dropped you at a random spot in Africa, would you rather have a handheld shortwave radio? Or an iPhone?

        (And forget for a moment that you would be more likely to be able to trade the iPhone for a ride to the nearest international airport)

        • by Gizzmonic (412910)

          Very good point. I think people are a little too gungho about the Internet...although it is quite robust, it's not quite as robust as the old shortwave radio. I guess projects are more likely to get funded if they mention the Internet...

          • Combined Internet device/shortwave radio?
            • by JSBiff (87824)

              I think that this is what you're looking for. [febo.com] Well, sort of anyhow. The problem is, that amateur radio is only supposed to be used for non-commercial purposes, so people can't access the 'general' Internet via Ham Radio (adverts, commercial sites, etc). Also, that link is, I think, somewhat dated - it discusses tcp/ip as a totally seperated system from the O/S. I think there are now Amateur TCP/IP implementations that integrate with the native O/S TCP/IP stacks, so that you could use any program that you wo

              • by grcumb (781340)

                I think that this is what you're looking for. [febo.com]

                Or this [peoplefirst.net.sb]. I've been actively supporting the work done by the People First Network (specifically their efforts to get a similar project up and running in neighbouring Vanuatu) for years now. PFNet has a network of dozens of HF radio stations transmitting email to the farthest reaches that lacks even the most basic infrastructure.

                The service they provide is essential, even saving lives occasionally. When a 7.0 earthquake caused a tsunami in one remote area of the Solomons, PFNet staff were the first to genera

            • Wikipedia's article about that [wikipedia.org] mostly talks about the FCC restrictions, but I suppose you wouldn't have to worry about that in the developing world. In other words it looks perfectly feasible, but it's a regulatory issue.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          C'mon now... Can't I just download the shortwave radio app from the iPhone store?

          FTA:Moreover, many countries have makeshift, fragile utility grids, rendering computers and uplinks useless during what are typically interminable outages. Worse, a natural disaster or civil emergency can cause widespread failure of infrastructureâ"ironically, just as the very same facilities are needed to communicate and coordinate with relief workers and local populations. Shipping containers full of recycled computers
          • by dfetter (2035)

            The difference in needed infrastructure between power and internet is approximately the difference in energy provided. Internet access can be provided for days or weeks off a relatively small battery pack, assuming that the sun doesn't shine over that time. Years otherwise. Electric power for that time requires large energy stores and generation capacity.

            Let's try comparing apples to apples :)

            • First, I didn't compare apples to anything other than apples. I might have compared apple sauce to apple juice (one of them takes a lot more apples to produce the same volume of product), but that doesn't invalidate my point.

              I never said it would power everything, but a little all purpose electricity MIGHT be preferable to single purpose electricity that can only power their internet access. Given the option I'll take something that keeps my freezer running when the grid is down and my food from ruining
        • Sure, shortwave radio would be great to communicate with the authorities or other people in your country. But as for getting word out to people outside there, it doesn't work. Most people get on Facebook, YouTube or another social network every day. If they got a bit more info about a crisis in Africa on the internet they would be more prone to act on it then a generic news broadcast about something that is happening on the other side of the globe that doesn't effect you one way or another.
        • by vertinox (846076)

          If I dropped you at a random spot in Africa, would you rather have a handheld shortwave radio? Or an iPhone?

          If that placed happened to be Somalia, I would go with the iPhone. You may think I am joking but I am not [wikipedia.org].

          Arguably I'd rather have an AK-47 and a few bodyguards while visiting, but I should be able to either barrow a wifi signal from an internet cafe or make a call to the US without too much trouble.

          For the locals it works fine with the other types of phones they use.

        • by vertinox (846076)

          Oh and...

          You're more likely to fail for lack of training, spare parts, support, basic infrastructure, etc.

          Won't that give people jobs? Hell if computers and internet worked just fine here we'd all be unemployed or working at McDonalds.

        • If they have the stable internet connection mentioned in the article title, I think I'd rather have the iPhone...
        • You said shortwave, but I'm changing it slightly to HF.

          The organization for which I normally work has policies about this kind of thing and almost all of our vehicles, without exception, are equipped with HF. The problem is, they don't work all the time, either. The vagaries of atmospheric conditions, time of day, blah blah blah and the skip zone, it's usually just as efficient to call on the phone instead of screwing around on the radio for half an hour. Because let's face it, even in Africa, if there's

        • What help is an airport, if you got no *money*? ^^

      • "While I agree with you, there are also some things to be gained from having access to the internet. For example how many people would care about the situation in Iran if Iran had no internet?"

        They'd care even less if cell-phones didn't come with cameras.

      • Plus, if people in Africa had Internet, they could Google [google.com] how to keep from starving to death.
      • While I agree with you, there are also some things to be gained from having access to the internet. For example how many people would care about the situation in Iran if Iran had no internet?

        What does it matter if people in Rwanda (as specified in the grandparent) care about Iran? They can't do anything about it (and neither can people in the developed world) and caring about Iran doesn't help them with any of the problems they face.

        Not that the internet really cares about anything but the latest s

    • By and large, you are right. I made a post about this same thing...

      But... the internet does have some useful information on it as well, and periodically, people stumble into it and become aware.

    • I'm definitely in favor of pubic safety, as you said. I should be the only person allowed to take a razor to my crotch.

    • You are right, being able to watch youtube videos it not very useful.

      Unless it's a youtube video about treating a livestock disease, or better techniques for planting.

      Or perhaps being able to contact someone at the market *before* you set of on the three day trek to sell your crops/animals so that you know it's worth going and that you'll get a good price, rather than getting there and getting stiffed because you have to sell to *someone* but there's a glut.

      Seriously, this isn't about being able to watch Star Wars parody videos on YouTube. It's about communication. In large, thinly populated countries, with terrible physical infrastructure, and sod-all education provision, communication can make a huge difference.

      Mobile phones are massively popular in Africa, incredibly useful for farmers and traders, allowing them to organise, and work more efficiently. They have made a very real difference to the way these societies operate.

      Remember, unlike the developed world, which is replacing otherwise functional communications infrastructure with the Internet, the developed world is jumping straight to it. This isn't about having the internet in Africa, it's about having any working communications system at all in Africa, and at the moment the best candidate systems are mobile phones and the internet.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheLink (130905)

        There are plenty of lectures available online. The OP underestimates the potential of Youtube and similar stuff.

        See: http://www.youtube.com/user/MIT [youtube.com]

        Don't like MIT? Try Stanford then.
        http://www.youtube.com/user/stanforduniversity [youtube.com]

        Plenty more. e.g.
        http://www.youtube.com/user/ucberkeley [youtube.com]

        How about seeing what people can learn in IIT, India?

        http://www.youtube.com/user/nptelhrd [youtube.com]

        Or UNSW in Australia?

        http://www.youtube.com/user/unswelearning [youtube.com]

        Or "attend" a lecture given by the Noble Prize winner Richard Feynman?

        http://w [youtube.com]

      • Unless it's a youtube video about treating a livestock disease, or better techniques for planting.

        Why couldn't it be? Just because the value we find in youtube is in watching a crazy cat get out of a washing machine or some emo crying/singing doesn't mean that's all it could be for. The potential for teaching techniques to people who might otherwise be illiterate (or only read and write in a language used by a few hundred people) could be very useful.

      • Or perhaps being able to contact someone at the market *before* you set of on the three day trek to sell your crops/animals so that you know it's worth going and that you'll get a good price, rather than getting there and getting stiffed because you have to sell to *someone* but there's a glut.

        People who've actually had experience with agriculture know that when an animal or crop is ready for sale - it's ready for sale. You don't have much of a choice because crops rot and animals cost money to hold ready

        • by morgauxo (974071)

          OK. Do you take it to the market to the North or to the market to the South. Which one has a better going rate at the moment?

          • If you were going at the moment - that would be fine. But the poster specified a three day trek.

            There's also the question of whether the market in the South means crossing a dangerous rapid, while the one to the North is via a smooth flat route. Etc... Etc...

      • by bpsh (1377259)

        The point about mobile phones is well made. The Internet is mainly useful when you can read, and read the language in which your chosen resources are written. A mobile phone is useful regardless of literacy or native language.

        Nick

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The parent is correct. I've worked internationally, and very few problems can simply be solved by providing material possessions to those without them. You can donate a tractor to a village and even provide them training in how to use it, but chances are it will never see even a portion of its potential. Even the most trivial of maintenance tasks for us can become incredibly compounded and complicated out there even if they have enough of a fundamental grasp of how to perform the maintenance. Where do I

    • The way I see it, this isn't so much a question of a digitial divide, but rather one of infrastructure. It is much more cost effective to start off with a reliable internet connection over which you can deliver all other services (telephony, education services, etc), than outfit the area with, for example, shortwave radios and keep upgrading (to copper cable, then fibre, etc).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I think it comes down to the basics: pubic safety, rule of law, market structures, literacy, infrastructure, etc. A connection to the internet can certainly help, in some cases. But in no way is it a necessity. Lower tech solutions may be more robust and effective, e.g., long distance shortwave radios, packet radio BBS's, etc.

      They taught us pubic safety in the military before we went to strange ports. It's important for everyone to know and will certainly increase quality of life.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sbeckstead (555647)
      The one thing that we have always had that these developing nations haven't is the ability of the common people to get news and human events stories. When you connect the people you can easily see that there is little difference between you and the people your commander has just told you to wipe out. You can also see that the rest of the world is ready to condemn you for what you are about to do. So communications and information dissemination is the key to these peoples developing more civilization. So
  • Reliable? They should beam it from space. Duh.
  • Jamming and network (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Narpak (961733) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @10:48AM (#28557779)
    I was just wondering how this system would work inside a nation or region that is actively trying to censor internet access or jam any "illegal networks"; or if it is possible to create a system from this concept that would work in such nations.
    • I would assume so, it's basically an over-sized wireless router, instead of being able to network with your neighbour, you can network with the other side of a city. I'm too lazy to bother looking further into it, but I would hope that it can (or it should) be able to sort of repair itself, ie: if you had 10 of these set up, then only one would need to be connected to the Internet, the rest would link through that one. In a really desperate situation you could drop (if they were completely self-contained, p

    • by westlake (615356)

      I was just wondering how this system would work inside a nation or region that is actively trying to censor internet access or jam any "illegal networks"

      Short answer? It doesn't.

      This is an Internet Cafe in a Box. This is WiFi.

      The base install costs 15 grand. The hardware has to clear customs.

      You need an access point to the Internet.

      There are antennas and solar panels, battery banks and all the rest that cannot be easily concealed. It will be trivially easy for the regime to find you.

      You can encrypt the tr

  • That way, you'll have the most stable and reliable connection imaginable.
  • by flatass (866368) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @11:19AM (#28558137)
    Now I just need a trailer to tow this baby along on our next family "camping" trip. God I love the great outdo.... wait! someone is wrong on the Internet! Kids your going to have to go hiking on your own.
  • The U.S. has nearly broken the bank, fighting for freedom by, well, fighting.

    Even in 2001, some technical people felt the better way to promote freedom would be to work to establish communications in countries that are now beset with violence and poverty and totalitarian control by oppressive governments (none of these three problems necessarily being related, mind you).

    There exist problems with doing this. One is addressed by this idea, how do you even make computers work where the utilities and support a

  • by MacTO (1161105)

    Let's say that you get these people online. They certainly won't be using the Internet in any manner remotely similar to how we use it. Consider the following:

    1. Very few resources will be in their native language. This means that very few people in these countries can use it to learn more effective agricultural practices, learn how to obtain safe drinking water, or learn how the reduce the spread of disease. (Not to mention the millions of other things that we have access to with a keyword search.) A

    • This means that very few people in these countries can use it to learn more effective agricultural practices, learn how to obtain safe drinking water, or learn how the reduce the spread of disease.

      It's even worse than you describe. Even if they understood every word about more effective agricultural practices, even if they understood every word about the need for clean drinking water, even if they understood every word about how to reduce the spread of the disease (see: clean water), they do not and will not actually follow that advice because they do not believe it.

      When a wave of child rape sweeps the continent because witch doctors tell adult men that fucking a virgin can cure AIDS, do you reall

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sbeckstead (555647)
      I can't fix the roof cause it's raining...boo hoo
  • I want stable internet and I live in a developed nation!

    Comcast business = crap

    - The net often goes down 6+ times a day.

    - When the net doesn't go down the cable modem seems to run out of memory for its routing table so random websites will stop loading. Rebooting the mobem will fix this. Slashdot's IP was one a while back and I thought Comcast was just blocking /. I had to go to http://star.slashdot.com/ [slashdot.com] to read anything.

    - Field techs have been out here countless times and are as dumb as a sack of bricks.

  • Cell Phones? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by johnnyR (211170)

    I think a cell phone network and donated refurbished cell phones would have a bigger and better impact

    • I think it is possible that used TV's and broadcasting equipment with an uninterrupted Time/Warner cable subscription would be as useful, but just as quickly made useless as the cell phones.
  • One new approach from SolarNetOne strives to allow users in those developing areas to have access to an internet connection without having to depend on unreliable infrastructure.

    Much as I hate to be greedy, any chance we could accomplish this in the US of A?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by StellarFury (1058280)

      I'm not sure that no-infrastructure internet is possible in a heavily-bureaucratized, corporate-dominated country like this.

      Unless you're talking about just the "unreliable" infrastructure part. In which case it's still impossible in a heavily-bureaucratized, corporate-dominated country like this.

    • by PPH (736903)

      To paraphrase the telecom apologists: broadband economics are different in a sparsely populated country such as the USA than they are in regions of higher density, like sub-Saharan Africa.

      Translation: We have Congress by the balls. Good luck, sucker.

  • by cenc (1310167) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:26PM (#28559101) Homepage

    I have been working the IT related fields in Latin America for over 10 years, both rural and urban. I have also spent some time teaching in China.

    One problem I see with this article is that it makes no mention of how they get the internet connectivity. Is it sat? Is it connecting to an existing upstream provider? Both are often unrealistic is developing countries even inside urban areas because of reliability issues, corruption, cost, monopolies, and so on. In rural areas there simply are not options, and because of low population with limited economic resources it is too expensive to provide it.

    The other problem that is an even greater issue is when the dam thing breaks, there are very very few people to maintain them. If someone has sufficient know how to fix something like this, chances are they are working for someone that pays a lot more (in local terms) because there is high demand for very few qualified IT people. Again, in rural areas they are often none existent. Anyone with those sorts of skills leaves. I have run in to this problem, even when money was no issue. There simply is no one to provide the support.

  • context matters (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kargoroth (1534695)
    all by itself it mights not seem like much but if that selfsustainable minilan were deployed in a school, or an other education center, or a hospital, than it would make a significant difference.

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