Meshing Tibet

Posted by Sam Churchill on

A four-part series for NPR’s “Day to Day”, by Xeni Jardin, describes a solar-powered network in Northern India.

Outside, an antenna sits on a rooftop not far away. It’s one of 30 connection points in a wireless network that’s bringing the Internet to this remote region where communication technology has been expensive, unreliable and hard to come by — until now.

The monks in meditation over those scrolls are a key inspiration for creating the wireless network. They are refugees from Tibet and part of a community of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Web access promises better communication, a path to preserve Tibetan culture and a way to tell their stories to the outside world.

Much of the so-called mesh network taking root in Dharamsala is the work of Yahel Ben-David. The Israeli engineer earned his technology chops in Silicon Valley and his survival skills in the Israeli military. The community wireless network, he says, is funded so far by his own credit cards.

Each antenna links with others to form what’s called a wireless mesh that provides Internet access. Connection points that are spread out over an area “mesh” together, so if one or two antennas are down, network users can connect with another in the mesh.

Ben-David and his colleagues — whom locals refer to as “computer-wallas” in Hindi slang — are getting remote assistance from a global hacker activist group called Cult of the Dead Cow.

The crew also recycles networking hardware parts from the West, and uses free, open-source software run the network and keep costs down.

Xeni Jardin has more on Connecting Tibet’s Exile Community via the Web.

Clif Cox used wireless and VoIP technologies to deliver communication services to rural areas in Bhutan, some five years ago. A detailed on-line report describes the system. The BBC reports from the mountainous Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan on the impact of the country’s first mobile phone network.

Inveneo is designed to provide computing, Internet Access and VoIP telephony for places with little or no access to electricity or affordable communications. It combines the Wyse S50, one of the smallest, most advanced Linux-based thin client on the market with a VoIP phone hookup and WiFi networking.

A solar-powered system can be installed in rural areas with little or no power or communications. It uses open-source, Linux-based instant messaging (GAIM), e-mail (Sylpheed), web browsing (Firefox) and the OpenOffice suite.

Jeff Allen was training in Guatemala with the Doctors Without Borders when Hurricane Katrina hit. He was sent to Mississippi for two months to set up radio relays and other communications stations.

Jeff was the project manager for Radio Response, an organization that created a community wireless network in Hancock County, Mississippi. Network World describes their 45M bit/sec wireless connection bridging some 76 miles to Hammond, Lousiana. Jeff Allen’s Katrina Report offers a detailed description on their networking experience.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Thursday, August 10th, 2006 at 4:36 am .