Affordable connectivity in remote and rural areas in developing world remains one of the top telecommunication challenges. In recent years a lot of  research has focused on solving this problem and options include Mobile wireless networks,  Fixed wireless technology such as Wimax, Wireless local loop and Satellite networks. Wireless Mesh Networks have also been proposed as a viable solution. 

There are a few organizations in Pakistan working on this – one leading research group is DRITTE which is an initiative for leveraging Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for developing countries. For those interested in research work do take a look at this upcoming workshop on Networked Systems for Developing Regions. There is a blog at DRITTE site as well … the latest post there talks about Meraki, which is aiming to provide consumer wireless mesh Internet network designed to “unwire the world,” and bring Internet access to the next billion.

Talking about billions, I came across another interesting website NextBillion.net which also includes articles and resources about rural connectivity. Read this post titled “Wireless Mesh as a Transforming Tool” by Al Hammond. See the Wikipedia wireless mesh networking page for an overview. Al’s post talks about a pilot program in Vietnam and there is a link to a pdf paper titled “A New Model For Rural Connectivity“. Very informative, also includes an appendix about Wi-Fi phones.  Al has travelled to Pakistan as well and also written about mobile commerce. Here is an excerpt from the paper:

“The components of a community-based telecommunications network include:
1) an Internet Protocol (IP) network in lieu of a circuit switched network,
2) voice services that are provided through VoIP in lieu of custom hardware-based switching,
3) wireless distribution, be it Wi-Fi or WiMAX or, for the more remote locations, VSAT links for connecting the rural system to the Internet.

In this model, the local network is easily deployed, provides multiple telephony access points for both inter-community and long distance calling in addition to supporting data. There are several options for providing these services to the local community. One obvious approach is to upgrade an existing telecenter to become a true “last mile” solution provider by focusing on voice services, and delivering expanded access into the community through selected businesses or even homes that serve as “phone shops” for the immediate neighbors. Another approach is to turn an existing satellite ground station into a local community telco by adding Wi-Fi/WiMAX distribution capabilities and WiFi phones.”

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