By AL TOULOUSE, France, 02 June 2006
Ermanno Pietrosemoli, of Venezuelan APC member EsLaRed, has been exploring the possibilities of wireless technology for years. From technical experiments to working with grassroots organisations, the firm belief of the irreplaceable possibilities of this type of connection to provide access in remote and scarcely populated regions has driven his work. A new wireless connection world record was set in April, which became the point of departure of this long-distance conversation with APCNews.
On April 13, Pietrosemoli, with the support of an Italian institution , set a new wireless connection record by establishing a 279 kilometre link in Mérida, Venezuela. Although it was just a test, the objective was to show that the impossibility of establishing links between far-off distances is no more than a myth. This “levels the field for practical applications”, he commented. Concrete projects are already being elaborated to link some towns that have been isolated to date. The production of handmade antennas, which is essential to reduce costs, is one of the pillars of the project.
1 International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP)
The reaction of the national and international community was instantaneous. The main Venezuelan newspapers (El Nacional, El Universal) published the news. A project is also being prepared to repeat the experience with external observers. With regard to what this provoked overseas, requests to carry out similar initiatives arrived from many countries.
A good indicator of the repercussions this record carried with it, is the large number of visits that the Wilac website received [ a ‘wireless technology for development’ portal, an initiative of EsLaRed and the Institute for Connectivity in the Americas – ICA], which is the main source of dissemination for the record.
There is no doubt that this technical feat has drawn unanimous admiration. However, the objective is not to gain recognition in a circle of experts. The direct beneficiaries are the inhabitants of isolated rural areas. It is a matter of building bridges and consolidating networks between organisations catering to basic needs: schools, hospitals and community centres.
In the state of Merida, where Pietrosemoli lives, a network he created on his own, and implemented with the help of other actors, is operational since 1998. At present, the longest active links are 70 kilometres long. They provide internet access but are also used for voice communication via VoIP  protocol, and to provide refresher courses and other internal applications.
2 Voice over IP (VoIP) is a voice conversation routing system via IP (internet protocol) packets.
“Initially it was a project of the Communications Laboratory at the University of the Andes. After my retirement, I was hired as a consultant by an organisation called Fundacite Merida. There, I advanced the state of Merida’s Distance Computing Network, which is still currently in operation, although I no longer work directly with Fundacite”, he explained.
Regarding the challenges that the extension of the wireless connection is facing, the success of Wi-Fi technology has led to the proliferation of these facilities and in some places interference problems have arisen. “We intend to extend these results to other less populated bandwith frequencies in order to provide service”, noted Pietrosemoli.
The dissemination of this technology in other Latin American countries is one of EsLaRed Foundation’s priorities. “The record helps the projects gain credibility,” he highlighted. Since 1992, the Foundation has been offering training workshops in Latin America and each of them have demonstrated the viability and potential of wireless solutions.
Likewise, they organise the annual International Encounter on Internet Network Technology for Latin America and the Caribbean, WALC. The 2006 edition will take place in Quito, Ecuador, in July. One of the eight workshops will be dedicated to wireless technology and an ICA-supported project, hoping to establish fourteen new facilities, will be released to an international audience.
The interview ended with an invitation to take on new initiatives: “Latin America is a particularly fertile field for this technology that has been used for years with excellent results”.