APC’s new “Community Wireless Connectivity” project: Starting work in Africa
By Anna Feldman
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, 13 April 2005
It’s most commonly associated with ultra-slim laptops and VIP airport lounges but wireless technology has been having far more exciting
and profound effects in places that you can’t take business class seats to reach and amongst people who travel on foot and not by plane. For wireless technology is about much more than being able to connect to the internet using a laptop without a cable.
Transmitting an internet connection without being restricted to the cabled infrastructure of telecommunications providers is getting the internet and email to areas formerly excluded from connectivity. The wireless signal can carry backbone internet traffic, including data and voice, more cheaply, and often more reliably, than much of the existing traditional telecoms equipment.
So it costs less and it can reach further, but is that enough to bring a meaningful result to a disempowered and disconnected community? The answer lies in the opening of wireless standards, and the way that the community can harness their wireless network. With wireless, their connectivity is driven by an infrastructure that communities can build, own, maintain and develop themselves.
The APC’s “Community Wireless Connectivity” project is ambitious. It’s looking to connect unconnected communities by skilling them to build their own wireless networks. The project covers the development of training materials and workshops that will be localised for different environmental, regulatory, language and climatic conditions. With four regional workshops in Africa this year, we’ll be training up to 100 possible future trainers, and producing materials in at least three languages that can be used by anyone to do training.
The first workshop took place in March this year in Mtoni, Zanzibar. A range of East African electronic networkers –telecentre workers, civil society systems administrators, technical staff from existing internet service providers, and other IT skills-sharers- attended a week-long hands-on training. They covered everything needed to plan, budget, set up, manage, maintain and develop a fully-functioning wireless network, that can be used by a local community.
The materials developed for the training will be structured in units that follow the Multimedia Training Kit (MMTK) format being used by APC, UNESCO and others, providing the training community in general with a set of materials with a highly flexible structure.
The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Open Society Institute (OSI) are funding the project in Africa. With the support and involvement of APC members in other regions, we are hoping to work on developing similar projects for the Latin American and Asia-Pacific regions. A Peruvian technician attended the training in Zanzibar and is already galvanising interest and expertise in Latin America to run the training there.
If you would be interested in contributing to this project as a donor, a materials developer, a workshop participant, or have a more general interest in the ideas we are working on please contact project coordinator Anna Feldman (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Photo: Making antennas out of used tin cans during Zanzibar workshop