Bringing High-Speed Broadband to Vocational Schools in Palestine
A high-speed wireless antenna sits alongside a Palestinian flag in Salfit, Palestine. Photo: Bob Marsh
In 2011 the students of Salfit Secondary Industrial School enjoyed what appeared to be a well-appointed computer lab. One of eleven schools in Palestine’s Technical Vocational Educational Training (TVET) program, the school’s desktop computers formed neat rows along the lab’s walls. Flat-screen monitors glowed with Facebook, Google and Wikipedia.
But looking closely and you’d have found very little movement on those pages. The internet, while technically available via the school’s DSL line, was incredibly slow. Loading simple pages would often take minutes when they would load at all.
Computer lab at the Salfit Secondary Industrial School, one of the TVET schools connected by Inveneo. Photo: Bob Marsh
In 2011 Inveneo was contacted by USAID, Cisco and the Palestinian Ministry of Education who were all looking for a solution to the bandwidth problem. These eleven schools were established to provide core vocational training – from auto repair to computer science to agriculture – to the next generation of Palestinian workers, an important part of the Ministry’s educational plans. Remote training, centralized data and advanced collaboration tools, all envisioned as part of the TVET system, had simply not been possible. With Inveneo’s expertise and funding provided by Craig Newmark’s CraigConnects organization, the decision was made to connect the schools in the TVET system with high-speed broadband.
Computer science students at Nablus Industrial Secondary School. Photo: Bob Marsh
The first step was to begin conducting site surveys at each of the schools, including an all-girls school and a school across the Israeli-Palestine wall.
“When I first visited the TVETs they all had DSL,” said Inveneo’s Bob Marsh, “but it was heavily congested to the point of being basically unusable. At least one was getting just 8kbps, which is just one-seventh of old-school dial-up. I met one principal who had to disconnect the entire school every time he needed to send just one email, and even then it would take fifteen minutes to go out.”
Antiquated infrastructure and extreme network congestion are common across Palestine, where unreliable service and massively shared connections are more rule than exception. What the TVETs needed was a new network from the ground up.
In 2012 Marsh returned to Palestine to evaluate vendors and proposals. A number of different network designs and implementation partners were considered and ultimately a set of high-bandwidth wireless connections were designed to connect the TVETs to one another directly via VPN, bypassing any existing infrastructure. This design would guarantee high-speed connectivity between the schools allowing direct communication and the sharing of a single high-speed internet connection. Once the network was designed a sustainable service and maintenance plan was developed.
CoolNet was selected as the local implementation partner based on their bid as well as their track record implementing the previously successful Model Schools Network, another Inveneo-guided project connecting 57 schools all over Palestine’s West Bank. A final contract was agreed on covering equipment, installation, internet service and inter-school connectivity for three years.
An IT teacher inspects an antenna on top of the Hebron Industrial Secondary School in Hebron, Palestine. Photo: Robert Marsh
In early 2013 the project install was completed and Marsh returned to Palestine to perform a comprehensive performance test and site inspection of the system. Visiting each of the TVET sites, Marsh visually inspected every element of the system, checking that wires were nailed down, networking cable was set in conduit and visiting the rooftops to physically tug on equipment.
After completing physical inspections at each site Marsh tested the network performance using several independent tools. The websites Speedtest.net and pingtest.net along with the open-source bandwidth measurement tool Jperf were used.
The result? Connection speeds of 10Mbps were confirmed at each of the schools, and a 30Mbps connection was confirmed between the network core and the internet at large. The network was 100% operational and Internet speeds at each of the schools were now registering at over 1,000 times faster than in 2011. Broadband had arrived.
Virtual network diagram showing the TVET locations.
The full inspection took a total of just four days. The remote nature of several of the locations in Palestine made travel logistics a challenge, but the high quality of the installation, adherence to contract specifications and the stellar network performance made verification easy for Marsh.
“The most amazing thing about this trip is that nothing unexpected happened,” said Marsh, “This project was a smooth operation from start to finish with no surprises. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
Marsh with the principal of the Salfit Secondary Industrial School.
The success of the TVET project validates Inveneo’s position that design, local knowledge and the right partners are just as important as technology in broadband deployments. The combination of technical expertise and local partnerships allowed Inveneo’s role to be one of evaluation and oversight, keeping expenses low and local.
“The TVET project is a great example of Inveneo’s design abilities,” said Kristin Peterson, Inveneo’s CEO. “This would have normally been an incredibly expensive project, but we came in with deep networking experience, a unbiased approach researching all options and a focus on meeting the needs of the TVETs. Our experience and local partnerships made this possible, affordable and sustainable.”
Unfortunately Marsh’s last trip coincided with the beginning of a large-scale Palestinian teacher strike, and as of writing the schools have not returned to a full schedule. Once the strike is settled and students arrive, however, the Internet, powerful educational tools and the whole world will finally be at their fingertips.
The campus of Nablus Industrial Secondary School, waiting for students to return. Photo: Bob Marsh