Inveneo Healthcare Archives

What’s Sierra Leone Like Almost One Year After the Ebola Virus Hit?

  1. Posted by Inveneo on April 20, 2015 in the categories: Healthcare, News, Relief
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Inveneo team member Eric Zan serves as a Senior Field Engineer in the Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI). He recently explained his thoughts on the ERCI Project and the difference it has been making in Ebola-hit Sierra Leone. Read his story below on what country is like now almost one year after the virus hit.

  1. What is Sierra Leone like one year after the Ebola virus hit?
Inveneo visited a case management and burial management team in Sierra Leone. Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

Inveneo visited a case management and burial management team in Sierra Leone. Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

“Although I haven’t been in Sierra Leone throughout the entire crisis, I can see that Sierra Leone used to be a place where ‘doors were closing’ in almost all areas for the residents. What I mean is that there were serious limits on migration, how much people moved, and where people congregated. In addition, several businesses left Sierra Leone which drastically affected opportunities for individuals. The overall economic landscape was hurt from this, and often people had to change their jobs. And even if you did not contract the Ebola virus your life was still drastically altered.

Today, humanitarian organizations of Sierra Leone are transitioning to more of a “recovery” mode. Ebola is still active there, but it is concentrated in different provinces. Priorities are changing theses days since many regions are not experiencing new patients and are devoting their resources to the economic and social recovery. Not surprisingly communities have experienced different levels of fallout from all this. However, through it all, communication is the biggest factor we are concerned with and it was good to see local communities having trust in the global community.”

  1. What were your daily activities in the ERCI project?
Eric Zan organizing materials for the ERCI project.

Eric Zan organizing materials for the ERCI project.

“It was constantly different because every day presented new challenges. In general I was the logistics coordinator and helped direct the Field Team on where they could go.

  • I made sure there was a way to gather details and share them with the team about where to go and when to take precautions.
  • I would liaise with our project partners in order to come up with a plan for integrating our equipment into their core network.
  • Also, I’d discuss how to build out each tower in a coordinated way, how to ensure bandwidth strength, and how to monitor the network.

Those items were the “big picture” parts to my day-to-day activities. But they add up when working in a crowded and limited-resource environment.”

  1. How is the ERCI project making a difference?

“First, the Internet will help main hubs coordinate with their field offices because a lot of decision making and resource allocation happens in the capital. Before getting an Internet connection, main offices sometimes had to wait days or weeks to get information about what was going on in the rural areas. By then it’s often too late to respond to the key needs in an efficient way. Second, the organizations can get data back almost instantly. This communication helps them coordinate with other organizations which overall helps paints the big picture for everybody.

Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

As a last note, the Internet generally helps people and organizations be more efficient in their missions, whatever their mission is. This may include having more time for projects, less need for travel, and better cost-effective strategies.”

  1. What precautionary health measures did you and your team take while in Sierra Leone?

“The health measures were mainly based on behavioral changes; they were all behavioral-based policies that we established for the team to follow. The ABCs meant Avoid Body Contact at all times. We were taking our temperatures at least twice a day, and we worked alongside a health a safety member from NetHope from their Icelandic Search and Rescue Team. Also, communication was important and people checked in with me. We also had a group chat on Skype going, and I was constantly coordinating with others in case someone needed to go to the hospital or wasn’t feeling well.”

  1. In your opinion, what ICTs would be the most effective in stopping Ebola from spreading?

“Although many people have mobile phones in Sierra Leone, they may not always be the entire solution. For example, mobile phones are not reliable to transfer large amounts of data. Instead, what is needed is a reliable Internet link and a better system for gathering and aggregating data in an automated way.

Another important part is the building of local capacity. Training is very important and it must be coordinated with local support and knowledge. Information should be made available to communities and more members of an organization’s team, too, and not necessarily to just the Project Coordinator.

Over the last few months I’ve realized that those living in Sierra Leone are incredibly resilient people, and they have so much that they are already offering. Combining these skills with ICT has the potential to play a significant role in bringing an end to this tragic Ebola crisis.”

What's Sierra Leone Like Almost One Year After the Ebola Virus Hit?

  1. Posted by sguser on April 20, 2015 in the categories: Healthcare, News, Relief
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Inveneo team member Eric Zan serves as a Senior Field Engineer in the Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI). He recently explained his thoughts on the ERCI Project and the difference it has been making in Ebola-hit Sierra Leone. Read his story below on what country is like now almost one year after the virus hit.

  1. What is Sierra Leone like one year after the Ebola virus hit?
Inveneo visited a case management and burial management team in Sierra Leone. Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

Inveneo visited a case management and burial management team in Sierra Leone. Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

“Although I haven’t been in Sierra Leone throughout the entire crisis, I can see that Sierra Leone used to be a place where ‘doors were closing’ in almost all areas for the residents. What I mean is that there were serious limits on migration, how much people moved, and where people congregated. In addition, several businesses left Sierra Leone which drastically affected opportunities for individuals. The overall economic landscape was hurt from this, and often people had to change their jobs. And even if you did not contract the Ebola virus your life was still drastically altered.

Today, humanitarian organizations of Sierra Leone are transitioning to more of a “recovery” mode. Ebola is still active there, but it is concentrated in different provinces. Priorities are changing theses days since many regions are not experiencing new patients and are devoting their resources to the economic and social recovery. Not surprisingly communities have experienced different levels of fallout from all this. However, through it all, communication is the biggest factor we are concerned with and it was good to see local communities having trust in the global community.”

  1. What were your daily activities in the ERCI project?
Eric Zan organizing materials for the ERCI project.

Eric Zan organizing materials for the ERCI project.

“It was constantly different because every day presented new challenges. In general I was the logistics coordinator and helped direct the Field Team on where they could go.

  • I made sure there was a way to gather details and share them with the team about where to go and when to take precautions.
  • I would liaise with our project partners in order to come up with a plan for integrating our equipment into their core network.
  • Also, I’d discuss how to build out each tower in a coordinated way, how to ensure bandwidth strength, and how to monitor the network.

Those items were the “big picture” parts to my day-to-day activities. But they add up when working in a crowded and limited-resource environment.”

  1. How is the ERCI project making a difference?

“First, the Internet will help main hubs coordinate with their field offices because a lot of decision making and resource allocation happens in the capital. Before getting an Internet connection, main offices sometimes had to wait days or weeks to get information about what was going on in the rural areas. By then it’s often too late to respond to the key needs in an efficient way. Second, the organizations can get data back almost instantly. This communication helps them coordinate with other organizations which overall helps paints the big picture for everybody.

Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

As a last note, the Internet generally helps people and organizations be more efficient in their missions, whatever their mission is. This may include having more time for projects, less need for travel, and better cost-effective strategies.”

  1. What precautionary health measures did you and your team take while in Sierra Leone?

“The health measures were mainly based on behavioral changes; they were all behavioral-based policies that we established for the team to follow. The ABCs meant Avoid Body Contact at all times. We were taking our temperatures at least twice a day, and we worked alongside a health a safety member from NetHope from their Icelandic Search and Rescue Team. Also, communication was important and people checked in with me. We also had a group chat on Skype going, and I was constantly coordinating with others in case someone needed to go to the hospital or wasn’t feeling well.”

  1. In your opinion, what ICTs would be the most effective in stopping Ebola from spreading?

“Although many people have mobile phones in Sierra Leone, they may not always be the entire solution. For example, mobile phones are not reliable to transfer large amounts of data. Instead, what is needed is a reliable Internet link and a better system for gathering and aggregating data in an automated way.

Another important part is the building of local capacity. Training is very important and it must be coordinated with local support and knowledge. Information should be made available to communities and more members of an organization’s team, too, and not necessarily to just the Project Coordinator.

Over the last few months I’ve realized that those living in Sierra Leone are incredibly resilient people, and they have so much that they are already offering. Combining these skills with ICT has the potential to play a significant role in bringing an end to this tragic Ebola crisis.”

Inveneo Launches Its Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative

  1. Posted by Inveneo on December 12, 2014 in the categories: Healthcare, News, Projects, Relief
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IMG_20141210_191707_112

The ERCI team who met in San Francisco for pre-deployment training.

As the Ebola crisis continues to hit hard in West Africa, Inveneo recently launched its Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI) this past week to bring Internet connectivity to doctors, nurses, and others working at medical centers located in Sierra Leone. On Wednesday December 10th, several of our team’s engineers, contractors, and few Volo employees gathered together in San Francisco for pre-deployment training.

The ERCI project is already underway and the Inveneo team has been busy ordering and moving ICT equipment to a warehouse in Accra, Ghana. Several pieces of equipment that we are using for this project include Ubiquiti’s Rocket M5 Radio, AirMax Sectors, RocketDish 30 cBi Dishes, AirFiber5, NanaoBridge M5 25, and the Mikrotik RouterBoard CCR 1009.

Several members of the Inveneo team join Volo in the Ebola Responder Communications Initiative class.

Several members of the Inveneo team join Volo in the Ebola Responder Communications Initiative class.

In addition, our Senior Field Engineer Samuel Perales and contractor Eric Kuhnke will be traveling to Accra, Ghana on Saturday, December 13th. In Ghana, Samuel and Eric will start sorting all the equipment that arrived, and soon they will be joined by several other team members throughout December. Our Sierra Leone partners, called ICIPs (Inveneo Certified ICT Partners), will also travel to Ghana in mid-January to be trained on creating broadband connections. We certainly have a great amount of work ahead of us, and we are certainly glad to be partnering with such a talented team!

After their training is complete our ICIPs and contractors will travel back to Sierra Leone to create Internet connectivity for medical centers that will be used by Ebola victims in the near future. Inveneo will provide long-term support after the technicians have set up Internet connectivity in medical centers so that strong and permanent WiFi connectivity is available to the doctors and medical staff working at those centers.ERCI Logo

Inveneo is no stranger to providing aid after an international disaster hit an area hard, leaving no to little WiFi connectivity. In fact, throughout the past several years Inveneo has responded to devastating crises around the world. In the Philippines we creating emergency Internet connectivity for humanitarian organizations after Super Typhoon Haiyan struck, and starting in 2010, our team assisted Haiti in rebuilding its Internet infrastructure after the devastating earthquake. If you would like to donate to this our impactful ERCI project, please visit our donate page.

Support Inveneo’s Response to Fighting Ebola

  1. Posted by Inveneo on October 23, 2014 in the categories: Healthcare, News, Relief
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Ebola has become an increasingly serious health crisis around the world, and humanitarian aid organizations in West Africa are in critical need of ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) to effectively support health care workers. In response, Inveneo is assembling a team that is preparing to travel to Accra, Ghana. Once there they will distribute 500 Google Nexus 7 Tablets (which will be pre-loaded with crisis-response apps) to major aid agencies working on the ground in affected areas.

ManandTabletThe Inveneo team, led by Senior Field Engineer Samuel Perales and Executive Director Bruce Baikie, will provide a Tablets for Ebola Responders training, delivering relevant skill sets to aid workers stationed throughout West Africa. This project will support up to 50 aid organizations.

Inveneo is eager to launch this project because of its ability to impact thousands living in communities potentially affected by Ebola. “International relief organizations have been expressing the need for tablets on the ground. Having seen firsthand just how effective these tablets were in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan last year in the Philippines, we are particularly eager to get tablets into the hands of aid organizations working to eradicate Ebola,” explains Samuel Perales.

The Google Nexus 7 tablets will be pre-loaded with software and apps that enable post-crisis communication and coordination. With programs like street-level maps and access to medical information, tablets become powerful ICT tools in the fight against Ebola. Aid workers will be able to deliver medical supplies more quickly and will receive updates and news stories that rural communities desperately need.

Inveneo’s team has been at the forefront in responding to global crises with effective ICTs. In addition to supporting recovery efforts after Super Typhoon Haiyan hit The Philippines in 2013, our team also responded to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake with the rapid build-out of a wireless broadband network that enabled communication necessary for relief and rebuilding efforts. In 2005, we sent team members to Mississippi immediately after hurricane Katrina to assist with rebuilding communications.

Inveneo needs your help to fight Ebola and to raise $185,000 for our Tablets for Ebola Responders project.  Your donation will enable us to provide these needed tablets and training in Ghana to support aid organizations working throughout West Africa. For more information and to support our efforts visit http://inveneo.org/donate

 

Support Inveneo's Response to Fighting Ebola

  1. Posted by sguser on October 23, 2014 in the categories: Healthcare, News, Relief
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Ebola has become an increasingly serious health crisis around the world, and humanitarian aid organizations in West Africa are in critical need of ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) to effectively support health care workers. In response, Inveneo is assembling a team that is preparing to travel to Accra, Ghana. Once there they will distribute 500 Google Nexus 7 Tablets (which will be pre-loaded with crisis-response apps) to major aid agencies working on the ground in affected areas.

ManandTabletThe Inveneo team, led by Senior Field Engineer Samuel Perales and Executive Director Bruce Baikie, will provide a Tablets for Ebola Responders training, delivering relevant skill sets to aid workers stationed throughout West Africa. This project will support up to 50 aid organizations.

Inveneo is eager to launch this project because of its ability to impact thousands living in communities potentially affected by Ebola. “International relief organizations have been expressing the need for tablets on the ground. Having seen firsthand just how effective these tablets were in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan last year in the Philippines, we are particularly eager to get tablets into the hands of aid organizations working to eradicate Ebola,” explains Samuel Perales.

The Google Nexus 7 tablets will be pre-loaded with software and apps that enable post-crisis communication and coordination. With programs like street-level maps and access to medical information, tablets become powerful ICT tools in the fight against Ebola. Aid workers will be able to deliver medical supplies more quickly and will receive updates and news stories that rural communities desperately need.

Inveneo’s team has been at the forefront in responding to global crises with effective ICTs. In addition to supporting recovery efforts after Super Typhoon Haiyan hit The Philippines in 2013, our team also responded to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake with the rapid build-out of a wireless broadband network that enabled communication necessary for relief and rebuilding efforts. In 2005, we sent team members to Mississippi immediately after hurricane Katrina to assist with rebuilding communications.

Inveneo needs your help to fight Ebola and to raise $185,000 for our Tablets for Ebola Responders project.  Your donation will enable us to provide these needed tablets and training in Ghana to support aid organizations working throughout West Africa. For more information and to support our efforts visit http://inveneo.org/donate

 

Top 4 Ways ICTs Can Help Defeat the Ebola Crisis

  1. Posted by Inveneo on September 25, 2014 in the categories: Healthcare, News, Relief
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The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is increasingly becoming an international crisis. Recently the World Health Organization counted 5,843 cases of Ebola patients and 2,811 deaths. Even more tragic, the number deaths occurring outside hospitals are not usually recorded, meaning the numbers could actually be significantly higher. The CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) predicts there if we don’t do anything to stop Ebola in its tracks, the world will have 1.4 million cases before we hit February 2015.

How does this Ebola outbreak compare to others in the past?ebola_time

So what can the ICT community do? ICTs (Information and Communications Technology) have already made drastic positive differences to healthcare workers around the world, and defeating the Ebola crisis should be no different. Here are four ways aid workers should embrace ICTs to make a bigger impact:

  1. More drones should be used to airlift medicine and supplies. Since aid organizations are continuously crossing borders and healthcare workers don’t always have proper equipment to keep themselves safe, a flying drone can prove useful to send medical supplies to remote locations. It would act as a simple way to either stop or slow down the spread of the Ebola virus. Drones would in no way replace doctors, but they could provide a safer alternative than people travelling to  dangerous areas just to deliver materials.
  2. A 24-hour helpline of doctors should be readily available by Skype, Google Hangout, or video chat. Online video calls would be able to provide consistent and accurate medical information to those living in rural areas. They would also decrease the need for doctors to be on the ground all the time. Finally, residents living in rural areas would be able to report cases more quickly, therefore allowing the WHO and other organizations to collect more accurate numbers on the outbreak.
  3. Apps providing correct information on Ebola should be offered to local community leaders. Fear and cultural insensitivity sometimes deny international aid workers access to areas where often their help is most needed. The answer? Provide local community leaders the same information via apps so they can share it with their own neighbors and friends. This can be done easily on any mobile device, and the apps should be made in or translated into local languages and dialects. In addition, the articles, content, and news stories on the app should be updated nearly every day, making the latest news and information available to entire communities.
  4. Access to social media will help sensitize others to the seriousness of this outbreak. So many west Africans enjoy Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and other social networking sites. These social media tools should be put to work since users are already enjoying those platforms. As one writer puts it, “Using modern day technology to sensitize the public on the virus, its prevention and particularly the importance of early intervention could be key in preventing the continuation of deaths in high numbers.”

ICTs can make a profound impact on scaling back the devastating effect that Ebola has had on Sierra Leone and other parts of western Africa. It’s time to nail down the best strategies to save precious lives around the world.

Inveneo has been working to provide the best ICTs for communities in need for over 10 years. If you would like to help Inveneo continue its ICT projects around the world, please donate today!

The E-Waste Dilemma: Where Do Broken Computers Go?

  1. Posted by Inveneo on July 2, 2014 in the categories: Healthcare, News
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That question gets pretty complicated based on where you live, and whether you’re talking about individually-owned computers or those held by large corporations. If you live in a country where there are electronic waste facilities nearby and you don’t have overseas relationships, you may want to stop reading this article now.  But what if you’re a tech enthusiast helping start-up programs in low-resource parts of the world?

OldComputersMy name is Neelley Hicks and I work as the Director for ICT4D Church Initiatives at United Methodist Communications, the communications agency for The United Methodist Church. We have relationships with people and ministries around the world and have a moral mandate to care for the earth. So this is an important question to ask, in this era of emerging technologies, that can make a big difference in quality of life for those who’ve been most left behind by the information age. I’ve been reaching out to colleagues who are fluent in e-waste policies to look at how we can be environmentally responsible, while still promoting the use of technologies for social good in low-resource areas. Here are some good practices I’ve found:

1) Determine What Is Right for the Context

If you think that the computers that work well in your regularly air-conditioned office are going to benefit the program you’re supporting in Africa or Haiti, think again. Instead, look at newer low-energy computers that survive high-heat, humidity, and dust and that run on batteries for extended periods of time. They’ll last longer, fulfill intended purposes better, and keep some of the toxins found in old computers out of areas that don’t have local e-waste management. If you still want to re-use an old computer, consider using it in a similar context – there may be a program right down the road from you that will really appreciate the donation!

2) Local Repair, Local Maintenance

If you donate or install technology overseas, what’s going to happen when you leave? Have you connected reliable ICT specialists with your program, or will users have to wait until you visit again for questions to be answered and repairs to take place? You can find certified specialists through Inveneo in 25 different countries. Also, NetHope provides a good network of in-country technicians, and they have an ongoing program to build field capacity. Consider strengthening in-field capacity and ICT knowledge during installation – not only will equipment be used to greater capacity, but you may also spark some new income-generating ideas for the programs you care about.

3) Rebuild Computers and Build Local Workforce

One broken component doesn’t mean the whole computer is bad. Maybe this is a good opportunity for a local university to dissect, test, and retain the good parts. In time, there will be enough good parts to make a whole computer that could be sold locally or used at the university. Along the way, knowledge will be gained – helping local workforce development.

United Methodist Communications is hosting an ICT4D conference September 3-5, 2014, focusing on how to implement successful tech projects in low-resource areas. Join the discussion with others who care about living into this technological era equitably and responsibly. Go to www.umcom.org/gamechangers to learn more.

Have other e-waste tips to share? Add comments below to be considered for inclusion during the conference.

The Making of a 90Km Wireless Link for Mfangano Island's High-Speed Internet Access

  1. Posted by sguser on August 15, 2012 in the categories: Education, Healthcare, News, Projects, Sectors
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Mfangano Island now has a 1Mbps Internet connection. For those of you reading this over a high-speed cable, DSL, or fiber connection in a developed country this may not sound terribly impressive. However, when you consider the four major challenges we had to overcome to bring this meg of data to a remote island nestled at the mouth of Winam Gulf in Lake Victoria, you might think again as to the level of this accomplishment:.

  1. A small local NGO that had never before worked in the telecom space had to figure out how to design and build a tower that could be welded by local craftsmen to tight technical specifications
  2. The tower they built supports one end of a 90km wireless link (60% of which is over water), pushing the limits of long-distance WiFi’s capabilities
  3. The whole operation is powered by a hybrid solar/wind electrical system, because no other power is available at the tower site
  4. Finally, every single piece of equipment required to put this all together had to be ferried to the island in a small wooden boat and hand carried up a grueling two hour hike

How it all began

I am Andris Bjornson, Inveneo’s CTO and I first met the staff of the small Kenyan NGO Organic Health Response (OHR) two years ago when OHR asked Inveneo’s Eric Blantz to have Inveneo come to Mfangano Island to conduct a survey to assess creative options for bringing Internet to the island.

When OHR’s director and founder Chas Salmen started the organization, his first meetings were on a beach where he gathered ideas about what issues Mfangano Islanders felt were most important. One thing kept coming up over and over again: “We want Internet.” And so Chas focused OHR’s energies on brining Internet to Mfangano Island in a way that would help the local population.

Cellular data coverage is generally good in Kenya. By “good” I mean that in urban centers you often find 3G speeds, and that slower EDGE data is fairly widespread in the countryside. Mfangano Island is an exception. It lies 50 km off the Kenyan shore of Lake Victoria, and providers have been hesitant to build towers on the island because of its remoteness and the unique challenges of making long links work over water. Instead, Islanders must rely on distant mainland cell towers, resulting in connections that continually drop out, and speeds that are slow for one user, and truly glacial when shared among multiple computers.

On that initial survey, I hiked Mfangano from top to bottom with Robinson Okeyo and Brian Mattah. I conducted a standard Inveneo wireless survey: taking GPS points, pictures and notes. I learned that the highest point on the Island was considered sacred ground (and obviously an inappropriate place for an antenna) because it was where the very first man to inhabit Mfangano built his house. I saw beautiful Kenyan sunsets across rustling maize fields, with the expanse of Lake Victoria as a backdrop.

The OHR model

The main thing I came away from our initial survey with, was a deep respect for OHR. I have never met another small NGO with as much heart as OHR. Every member of the OHR team I worked with, most born and raised on Mfangano, is committed to the success of the organization on a very personal level.

OHR is primarily focused on delivering social services to the community around HIV/AIDS issues. Kenya’s Suba district has one of the highest HIV infection rates in Kenya, estimated to be between 25-30%.

OHR came up with the unique idea to start the Ekialo Kiona (EK) center. Ekialo Kiona means “Whole World” in Suba, the local language of Mfangano Island. The EK center is a well-equipped computer center, library, and training facility, and it’s free for all the residents of the island to use.

The only condition for access is that users must know their HIV status, current within 6 months. The EK center runs a testing and counseling center in the building across the hall from the computer lab, and issues identity cards to all EK center members. These cards not only grant access to the EK centers resources, but also help with the process of referring HIV positive members to the right treatment and care facilities.

Building the tower

Returning from the survey visit, I plugged the GPS points I’d captured into RadioMobile, the open source link planning software Inveneo uses to do WiFi analysis. RadioMobile uses freely available terrain data captured by the space shuttle to create a three dimensional view of the project area. It combines that with radio propagation models to let us analyze possible antenna locations for WiFi links.

Based on this analysis, Inveneo came up with two options for OHR: lease space on a Kenyan cell provider’s tower on the mainland, or build their own 20m mast high on Mfangano’s Soklo Mountain, and attempt a whopping 90km link all the way back to the province capitol city of Kisumu where high speed internet is readily and affordably available.

OHR, wanting to invest in small Island welders and fabricators as much as possible and to avoid the recurring costs of leasing a tower, chose the second option. OHR also found the mast construction option attractive because it would enable them to setup a community FM radio station to inform Islanders about their services. I have to admit; at the time I was skeptical of OHR’s ability to pull together a 20m mast safe enough for me or other Inveneo engineers to install equipment on, and to get it in exactly the right spot. Then again, I didn’t know OHR’s determination and work ethic as well then as I do now.

With Inveneo’s advice, OHR took on negotiations for the land we’d identified as the “sweet spot” for the tower. Sorting that out involved discussions with the father who owned the land and his two sons he’d divided it between. OHR’s local buy-in was critical here, as we later found a large Kenyan cellular provider had tried and failed to negotiate a land use deal with the farmer. OHR also secured an agreement with the owner of the tallest building in Kisumu to mount a pole and dish on their roof.

OHR did research and consulted with mechanical engineers to come up with a design that could be built by Island welders in 10ft sections. These sections would later be carried up the only footpath to the top of the Island, bolted together, and fitted with tight guy wires.

OHR next had to learn about proper grounding of radio masts. For obvious reasons, tall metal objects on high points tend to attract lightning. Tower grounding involves building a copper cage of sorts out of multiple rings of copper wire buried at the base of the tower. A lightning rod must be mounted high on the tower, and tied into the copper cage. This is essential to be sure sensitive electronic equipment on the tower survives lightning strikes unharmed.

The final step before construction could begin was to sort through the regulatory issues, and particularly in Kenya this is no small feat. Communications, aviation, and environmental regulatory agencies had to be contacted, forms had to be filled out, and fees had to be paid.

OHR navigated all these hurdles with remote technical input from Inveneo and many others, but to keep costs down and to make sure the OHR team was intimately familiar with the details of the project, OHR local staff handled the bulk of the discussions and negations.

A unique wind/solar power system

With the tower in place, OHR just needed electricity. After all, there aren’t exactly wall sockets sprouting out of the corn fields. Mfangano Island does have a small gas burning power plant (essentially a building sized gas generator). However, distribution wires and power poles haven’t been run around the perimeter of the Island yet, let alone to the top of Soklo Mountain. Kenya Power could be paid to install the wires to the mountaintop, but install fees would be enormous, and maintenance would have been extremely challenging.

OHR enlisted the help of a Kisumu-based organization Access Energy, started by Sam Duby. Inveneo has always prioritized low power equipment, and the WiFi gear we needed to install at the tower would only require 24 watts to operate 24/7. However, FM radio transmitters are a different story and are inherently power-hungry. Access Energy built a hybrid solar/wind system consisting of a panel and two locally fabricated wind turbines. Sam’s turbine mast design uses hinged, guyed monopoles. These are far easier to put up than climbable masts because turbines can be assembled before the whole pole is tilted into place. This doesn’t work for WiFi, though, because high gain dishes must be carefully aimed by a person on the tower to ensure a strong signal.

Preparing the WiFI connection

With all the prerequisites in place (tower, licensing, power), it was now time for Inveneo and our Kenyan ICIP Setright Technologies to deliver on our promise to get the WiFi link up. I definitely had a few butterflies when it came time to deploy. I knew the science was sound, but long WiFi links over water present unique challenges.

Water and land heat and cool at different rates. This in turn keeps the air above at different temperatures. Every time radio waves cross a temperature boundary, they bend slightly. As the air temperature changes throughout the day, this can make the ideal antenna position for, say, 6am vastly different from the ideal position at 6pm. Talking to others, it seemed that one of the key factors was whether the ends of the link were high up (good) or very close to the edge of the water (bad). In this case we were in luck, because both ends of the Mfangano-Kisumu link were quite high above the water.

Inveneo uses wireless equipment primarily from an innovative California-based company called Ubiquiti. Ubiquiti gear is rugged, easy to use, high performance, and at a far lower price point than many more traditional telco manufacturers equipment. Inveneo selected Ubiquiti equipment for the Haiti Rural Broadband Network that spans 30+ towers across virtually the whole country of Haiti.

For the OHR project, we chose Ubiquiti’s RocketM5 radio paired with their largest dish: the .9 meter, 34 dBi RocketDish. We fitted the dish with a radome: an aerodynamic cover that turns it from a wind-catching scoop into a smooth bubble. This change in wind resistance literally cuts the wind loading on the tower in half: a critical factor when putting such a large dish at the top of a skinny-guyed mast.

I’ve come to realize recently that something like 85% of implementing ICT projects in developing countries is proper logistics. The technical work itself isn’t all that challenging, but if you get to a place like Mfangano and find you don’t have the proper tool or spare piece of gear, you can quickly find yourself in a non-workable situation.

Once the equipment arrived in Nairobi, Setright shipped it to Kisumu. Sam Perales, one of Inveneo’s Project Engineers, and I traveled to Kisumu in late May this year to install the link. The plan was for Sam to remain at the Kisumu end of the link, managing the team installing the dish on top of the 18-story Province Headquarters building. Inveneo has learned from experience that with any link over about 40km, it’s key to have teams at both ends simultaneously to fine-tune the aiming. We found once we arrived in Kisumu that the 18 story building had never been fitted with elevators, so Sam’s team had to carry hefty pelican cases and the large dish up 18 flights of stairs. Sorry Sam!

I can honestly say Mfangano is one of the most remote places I’ve ever been. To reach Mfangano Island from Kisumu, I traveled by SUV to Luanda Kotieno, and from there by small car ferry to a spit of land called Mbita. The last hour from Mbita to Mfangano is done by wooden fishing boat. For the final two hours to the top of Soklo Mountain, travel by foot up the rugged footpath through the jungle is the only option. It’s a journey that’s challenging without a few hundred pounds of tools and equipment. Adding that in it makes for hot, sweaty work.

OHR rounded up a group of 6 strong guys to help us get the gear up to the tower. I can only imagine what it was like to carry the even heavier tower sections up there. OHR’s project coordinator, Robinson, was a whirlwind of activity as he arranged all aspects of moving the equipment. His rapid fire approach has earned him the nickname “Marucha” (speedy, in the Luo local language) and it’s certainly an apt moniker.

Day 1 of making the 90Km WiFi connection

With myself, Edwin (an engineer from Setright), the OHR team, and all the right equipment finally at the base of the tower, it was time to get to work. From our time in Haiti, and our recent month long deployment of a medical records network for AMPATH (also in Kenya, further north) we’ve got this part of wireless installation down pat, and the work flows smoothly. We have beautiful sunny weather and a cool lake breeze that’s pleasant up on top of the tower.

Through our partnership with the tower safety experts Petzl, Inveneo has learned a few tricks for rigging hauling systems that makes the task of getting a heavy dish to the top of the tower easier so that went like clockwork. Through Petzl’s generous support, we were also able to donate a climbing safety kit to OHR and train them on its use. This will enable the OHR team to safely carry out any necessary repairs or replacements.

The physical part of the install (hoisting the gear, bolting it to the tower, running the cable, and so on) is by far the most time consuming aspect of wireless work. This, and dealing with a few unexpected wrinkles involving malfunctioning power inverters and poles that were too short to hold our dish, took the whole first day.

OHR has two jovial guys assigned to their “emergency team.” The emergency team is the fix-all troubleshooters. In this case, the emergency team was tasked with carrying up a spare inverter and a backup generator from the base of the Island. “Spare” isn’t actually quite the right word. I learned later that the inverter they sent up came straight from OHR founder Chas Salmen’s personal tent, so Chas and his partner, OHR’s Agriculture Coordinator Jenna, would be without power at night until the permanent replacement could be arranged. Thanks Chas and Jenna!

With day one complete, we headed back down the trail at 6pm finishing the steep hike by headlamp-light. I was excited to know that the following day would be the moment of truth when we would light up the link back to Kisumu and finally see what kind of performance we’d be able to deliver.

Day 2 of making the 90Km WIFI connection

The second day’s hike was harder than the first, largely due to sore muscles from the day before. Edwin had the bad luck of having bought new shoes just before the trip and was fighting blisters. Fortunately, we’d been able to leave the gear in the small shed at the base of the tower so we were less encumbered at least.

Edwin manned the laptop in the equipment shed, communicating with me on the tower with our Motorola VHF radios. We picked these up for our Haiti work because they’re the standard that tie in with the UN’s radio networks around the world, and they’d come in handy recently on our Dadaab deployment. Amazingly, I was also able to reach Sam in Kisumu 90 km away on the VHF radio. This proved extremely helpful as I could coordinate with both Edwin and Sam in realtime.

We powered up the Ubiquiti radios, got them to connect to each other almost right away, and did a little fine-tuning. This is a painstaking process that takes a lot of patience. It involves the engineer at the base of the tower reading out signal strength numbers as the man on the tower makes minute adjustments to the dish. It’s proven one of the hardest skills to pass on to our partners, and the amount of precision required goes up as the link distance increases. On the OHR project, aiming went very smoothly since Edwin mastered the skill.

I called down from the tower to ask Edwin what final signal strength we’d settled on once everything was locked in. When the answer came back “-52 dBm” I could hardly believe it, and had to ask him to repeat himself. dBm is a measure of received signal strength. The less negative the number the better the signal. I’d been expecting something in the mid-70s or so, and to hear -52 was incredible. That was the moment when we knew for sure that we’d have a stable, high-bandwidth link to the island, and it was hugely gratifying.

Turning on Mfangano’s Internet link

After coming down the tower, we finished the equipment room installation, did final configuration of the router and monitoring server, and tidied things up. The monitoring server is an important part of any wireless network, as it lets you look at statistics on performance of the network captured around the clock.

A few final tweaks to the router configurations were all it took to “switch on” the Internet link. The first thing I did to test the connection end-to-end was Google “Mfangano Island” and up popped a very responsive Google map. Robinson and Brian were impressed with how fast it updated as I zoomed in and out, switching on high-resolution satellite photos of the island.

Getting ready to leave a remote site for the last time is always a little nerve-wracking. You find yourself double and triple checking cables and connections, because you know leaving something unplugged would mean another long hike up to fix it. We again hiked down by headlamp, feeling a strong sense of satisfaction knowing the hardest work was out of the way.

Edwin and I spent our final day on the Island installing the EK center end of the short wireless link to the tower. It’s the EK center where all the computers are and where the Internet bandwidth actually reaches the end-users. Fortunately we’d done our job right at the tower, and the link came right up when we pointed the small Ubiquiti NanoBridge up at Soklo Mountain tower. Edwin ran the installation, and things went smoothly. We also installed a local wireless access point (a Ubiquiti NanoStationM2) in the EK center to make sure laptops throughout the small campus could benefit from the internet).

The satisfaction of a job well done

When I fired up a speed test site on one of the EK center computers and measured a blistering fast 8Mbps, the eyes of all 6 people watching over my shoulder went wide. This is truly one of my favorite moments of a wireless installation: when the high-speed bandwidth reaches the end users for the first time. Word traveled fast, and the EK center’s 10 computers were quickly full. I saw a lot of gMail, some Skype, a bit of Wikipedia, and some Google image searches in just the first 10 minutes.

After putting the finishing touches on the EK center installation, Edwin and I spent a few hours training Brian on the layout and maintenance of the network. We made sure pre-configured spares were handed off and hung a detailed diagram of the network to help with troubleshooting.

Climbing into the fishing boat and speeding away from the Island, I looked up at the Soklo Mountain tower. The large white dish glinted in the orange evening sun, clearly visible from a few km away. I talk a bit with Edwin about all the hard work over two years that AccessEnergy, Inveneo, SetRight, and especially by OHR invested in making that tower a reality…and we both smile. I’m excited to see where OHR takes this project next.

The FM transmitter installation is set to happen soon. OHR will be able to install the radio studio in the EK center, and to stream the audio up to the transmitter at the tower over the short wireless link. With the training and extra equipment we left behind, OHR is already talking about putting in a few more links to reach clinic and school sites on the Island. From what I’ve seen working on ICTD projects, perhaps the biggest factor in long term success or failure isn’t technology: it’s local ownership. Given what I know about the dedication of OHR’s team, I expect this wireless network to be around for a long time

The Making of a 90Km Wireless Link for Mfangano Island’s High-Speed Internet Access

  1. Posted by Inveneo on August 15, 2012 in the categories: Education, Healthcare, News, Projects, Sectors
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Mfangano Island now has a 1Mbps Internet connection. For those of you reading this over a high-speed cable, DSL, or fiber connection in a developed country this may not sound terribly impressive. However, when you consider the four major challenges we had to overcome to bring this meg of data to a remote island nestled at the mouth of Winam Gulf in Lake Victoria, you might think again as to the level of this accomplishment:.

  1. A small local NGO that had never before worked in the telecom space had to figure out how to design and build a tower that could be welded by local craftsmen to tight technical specifications
  2. The tower they built supports one end of a 90km wireless link (60% of which is over water), pushing the limits of long-distance WiFi’s capabilities
  3. The whole operation is powered by a hybrid solar/wind electrical system, because no other power is available at the tower site
  4. Finally, every single piece of equipment required to put this all together had to be ferried to the island in a small wooden boat and hand carried up a grueling two hour hike

How it all began

I am Andris Bjornson, Inveneo’s CTO and I first met the staff of the small Kenyan NGO Organic Health Response (OHR) two years ago when OHR asked Inveneo’s Eric Blantz to have Inveneo come to Mfangano Island to conduct a survey to assess creative options for bringing Internet to the island.

When OHR’s director and founder Chas Salmen started the organization, his first meetings were on a beach where he gathered ideas about what issues Mfangano Islanders felt were most important. One thing kept coming up over and over again: “We want Internet.” And so Chas focused OHR’s energies on brining Internet to Mfangano Island in a way that would help the local population.

Cellular data coverage is generally good in Kenya. By “good” I mean that in urban centers you often find 3G speeds, and that slower EDGE data is fairly widespread in the countryside. Mfangano Island is an exception. It lies 50 km off the Kenyan shore of Lake Victoria, and providers have been hesitant to build towers on the island because of its remoteness and the unique challenges of making long links work over water. Instead, Islanders must rely on distant mainland cell towers, resulting in connections that continually drop out, and speeds that are slow for one user, and truly glacial when shared among multiple computers.

On that initial survey, I hiked Mfangano from top to bottom with Robinson Okeyo and Brian Mattah. I conducted a standard Inveneo wireless survey: taking GPS points, pictures and notes. I learned that the highest point on the Island was considered sacred ground (and obviously an inappropriate place for an antenna) because it was where the very first man to inhabit Mfangano built his house. I saw beautiful Kenyan sunsets across rustling maize fields, with the expanse of Lake Victoria as a backdrop.

The OHR model

The main thing I came away from our initial survey with, was a deep respect for OHR. I have never met another small NGO with as much heart as OHR. Every member of the OHR team I worked with, most born and raised on Mfangano, is committed to the success of the organization on a very personal level.

OHR is primarily focused on delivering social services to the community around HIV/AIDS issues. Kenya’s Suba district has one of the highest HIV infection rates in Kenya, estimated to be between 25-30%.

OHR came up with the unique idea to start the Ekialo Kiona (EK) center. Ekialo Kiona means “Whole World” in Suba, the local language of Mfangano Island. The EK center is a well-equipped computer center, library, and training facility, and it’s free for all the residents of the island to use.

The only condition for access is that users must know their HIV status, current within 6 months. The EK center runs a testing and counseling center in the building across the hall from the computer lab, and issues identity cards to all EK center members. These cards not only grant access to the EK centers resources, but also help with the process of referring HIV positive members to the right treatment and care facilities.

Building the tower

Returning from the survey visit, I plugged the GPS points I’d captured into RadioMobile, the open source link planning software Inveneo uses to do WiFi analysis. RadioMobile uses freely available terrain data captured by the space shuttle to create a three dimensional view of the project area. It combines that with radio propagation models to let us analyze possible antenna locations for WiFi links.

Based on this analysis, Inveneo came up with two options for OHR: lease space on a Kenyan cell provider’s tower on the mainland, or build their own 20m mast high on Mfangano’s Soklo Mountain, and attempt a whopping 90km link all the way back to the province capitol city of Kisumu where high speed internet is readily and affordably available.

OHR, wanting to invest in small Island welders and fabricators as much as possible and to avoid the recurring costs of leasing a tower, chose the second option. OHR also found the mast construction option attractive because it would enable them to setup a community FM radio station to inform Islanders about their services. I have to admit; at the time I was skeptical of OHR’s ability to pull together a 20m mast safe enough for me or other Inveneo engineers to install equipment on, and to get it in exactly the right spot. Then again, I didn’t know OHR’s determination and work ethic as well then as I do now.

With Inveneo’s advice, OHR took on negotiations for the land we’d identified as the “sweet spot” for the tower. Sorting that out involved discussions with the father who owned the land and his two sons he’d divided it between. OHR’s local buy-in was critical here, as we later found a large Kenyan cellular provider had tried and failed to negotiate a land use deal with the farmer. OHR also secured an agreement with the owner of the tallest building in Kisumu to mount a pole and dish on their roof.

OHR did research and consulted with mechanical engineers to come up with a design that could be built by Island welders in 10ft sections. These sections would later be carried up the only footpath to the top of the Island, bolted together, and fitted with tight guy wires.

OHR next had to learn about proper grounding of radio masts. For obvious reasons, tall metal objects on high points tend to attract lightning. Tower grounding involves building a copper cage of sorts out of multiple rings of copper wire buried at the base of the tower. A lightning rod must be mounted high on the tower, and tied into the copper cage. This is essential to be sure sensitive electronic equipment on the tower survives lightning strikes unharmed.

The final step before construction could begin was to sort through the regulatory issues, and particularly in Kenya this is no small feat. Communications, aviation, and environmental regulatory agencies had to be contacted, forms had to be filled out, and fees had to be paid.

OHR navigated all these hurdles with remote technical input from Inveneo and many others, but to keep costs down and to make sure the OHR team was intimately familiar with the details of the project, OHR local staff handled the bulk of the discussions and negations.

A unique wind/solar power system

With the tower in place, OHR just needed electricity. After all, there aren’t exactly wall sockets sprouting out of the corn fields. Mfangano Island does have a small gas burning power plant (essentially a building sized gas generator). However, distribution wires and power poles haven’t been run around the perimeter of the Island yet, let alone to the top of Soklo Mountain. Kenya Power could be paid to install the wires to the mountaintop, but install fees would be enormous, and maintenance would have been extremely challenging.

OHR enlisted the help of a Kisumu-based organization Access Energy, started by Sam Duby. Inveneo has always prioritized low power equipment, and the WiFi gear we needed to install at the tower would only require 24 watts to operate 24/7. However, FM radio transmitters are a different story and are inherently power-hungry. Access Energy built a hybrid solar/wind system consisting of a panel and two locally fabricated wind turbines. Sam’s turbine mast design uses hinged, guyed monopoles. These are far easier to put up than climbable masts because turbines can be assembled before the whole pole is tilted into place. This doesn’t work for WiFi, though, because high gain dishes must be carefully aimed by a person on the tower to ensure a strong signal.

Preparing the WiFI connection

With all the prerequisites in place (tower, licensing, power), it was now time for Inveneo and our Kenyan ICIP Setright Technologies to deliver on our promise to get the WiFi link up. I definitely had a few butterflies when it came time to deploy. I knew the science was sound, but long WiFi links over water present unique challenges.

Water and land heat and cool at different rates. This in turn keeps the air above at different temperatures. Every time radio waves cross a temperature boundary, they bend slightly. As the air temperature changes throughout the day, this can make the ideal antenna position for, say, 6am vastly different from the ideal position at 6pm. Talking to others, it seemed that one of the key factors was whether the ends of the link were high up (good) or very close to the edge of the water (bad). In this case we were in luck, because both ends of the Mfangano-Kisumu link were quite high above the water.

Inveneo uses wireless equipment primarily from an innovative California-based company called Ubiquiti. Ubiquiti gear is rugged, easy to use, high performance, and at a far lower price point than many more traditional telco manufacturers equipment. Inveneo selected Ubiquiti equipment for the Haiti Rural Broadband Network that spans 30+ towers across virtually the whole country of Haiti.

For the OHR project, we chose Ubiquiti’s RocketM5 radio paired with their largest dish: the .9 meter, 34 dBi RocketDish. We fitted the dish with a radome: an aerodynamic cover that turns it from a wind-catching scoop into a smooth bubble. This change in wind resistance literally cuts the wind loading on the tower in half: a critical factor when putting such a large dish at the top of a skinny-guyed mast.

I’ve come to realize recently that something like 85% of implementing ICT projects in developing countries is proper logistics. The technical work itself isn’t all that challenging, but if you get to a place like Mfangano and find you don’t have the proper tool or spare piece of gear, you can quickly find yourself in a non-workable situation.

Once the equipment arrived in Nairobi, Setright shipped it to Kisumu. Sam Perales, one of Inveneo’s Project Engineers, and I traveled to Kisumu in late May this year to install the link. The plan was for Sam to remain at the Kisumu end of the link, managing the team installing the dish on top of the 18-story Province Headquarters building. Inveneo has learned from experience that with any link over about 40km, it’s key to have teams at both ends simultaneously to fine-tune the aiming. We found once we arrived in Kisumu that the 18 story building had never been fitted with elevators, so Sam’s team had to carry hefty pelican cases and the large dish up 18 flights of stairs. Sorry Sam!

I can honestly say Mfangano is one of the most remote places I’ve ever been. To reach Mfangano Island from Kisumu, I traveled by SUV to Luanda Kotieno, and from there by small car ferry to a spit of land called Mbita. The last hour from Mbita to Mfangano is done by wooden fishing boat. For the final two hours to the top of Soklo Mountain, travel by foot up the rugged footpath through the jungle is the only option. It’s a journey that’s challenging without a few hundred pounds of tools and equipment. Adding that in it makes for hot, sweaty work.

OHR rounded up a group of 6 strong guys to help us get the gear up to the tower. I can only imagine what it was like to carry the even heavier tower sections up there. OHR’s project coordinator, Robinson, was a whirlwind of activity as he arranged all aspects of moving the equipment. His rapid fire approach has earned him the nickname “Marucha” (speedy, in the Luo local language) and it’s certainly an apt moniker.

Day 1 of making the 90Km WiFi connection

With myself, Edwin (an engineer from Setright), the OHR team, and all the right equipment finally at the base of the tower, it was time to get to work. From our time in Haiti, and our recent month long deployment of a medical records network for AMPATH (also in Kenya, further north) we’ve got this part of wireless installation down pat, and the work flows smoothly. We have beautiful sunny weather and a cool lake breeze that’s pleasant up on top of the tower.

Through our partnership with the tower safety experts Petzl, Inveneo has learned a few tricks for rigging hauling systems that makes the task of getting a heavy dish to the top of the tower easier so that went like clockwork. Through Petzl’s generous support, we were also able to donate a climbing safety kit to OHR and train them on its use. This will enable the OHR team to safely carry out any necessary repairs or replacements.

The physical part of the install (hoisting the gear, bolting it to the tower, running the cable, and so on) is by far the most time consuming aspect of wireless work. This, and dealing with a few unexpected wrinkles involving malfunctioning power inverters and poles that were too short to hold our dish, took the whole first day.

OHR has two jovial guys assigned to their “emergency team.” The emergency team is the fix-all troubleshooters. In this case, the emergency team was tasked with carrying up a spare inverter and a backup generator from the base of the Island. “Spare” isn’t actually quite the right word. I learned later that the inverter they sent up came straight from OHR founder Chas Salmen’s personal tent, so Chas and his partner, OHR’s Agriculture Coordinator Jenna, would be without power at night until the permanent replacement could be arranged. Thanks Chas and Jenna!

With day one complete, we headed back down the trail at 6pm finishing the steep hike by headlamp-light. I was excited to know that the following day would be the moment of truth when we would light up the link back to Kisumu and finally see what kind of performance we’d be able to deliver.

Day 2 of making the 90Km WIFI connection

The second day’s hike was harder than the first, largely due to sore muscles from the day before. Edwin had the bad luck of having bought new shoes just before the trip and was fighting blisters. Fortunately, we’d been able to leave the gear in the small shed at the base of the tower so we were less encumbered at least.

Edwin manned the laptop in the equipment shed, communicating with me on the tower with our Motorola VHF radios. We picked these up for our Haiti work because they’re the standard that tie in with the UN’s radio networks around the world, and they’d come in handy recently on our Dadaab deployment. Amazingly, I was also able to reach Sam in Kisumu 90 km away on the VHF radio. This proved extremely helpful as I could coordinate with both Edwin and Sam in realtime.

We powered up the Ubiquiti radios, got them to connect to each other almost right away, and did a little fine-tuning. This is a painstaking process that takes a lot of patience. It involves the engineer at the base of the tower reading out signal strength numbers as the man on the tower makes minute adjustments to the dish. It’s proven one of the hardest skills to pass on to our partners, and the amount of precision required goes up as the link distance increases. On the OHR project, aiming went very smoothly since Edwin mastered the skill.

I called down from the tower to ask Edwin what final signal strength we’d settled on once everything was locked in. When the answer came back “-52 dBm” I could hardly believe it, and had to ask him to repeat himself. dBm is a measure of received signal strength. The less negative the number the better the signal. I’d been expecting something in the mid-70s or so, and to hear -52 was incredible. That was the moment when we knew for sure that we’d have a stable, high-bandwidth link to the island, and it was hugely gratifying.

Turning on Mfangano’s Internet link

After coming down the tower, we finished the equipment room installation, did final configuration of the router and monitoring server, and tidied things up. The monitoring server is an important part of any wireless network, as it lets you look at statistics on performance of the network captured around the clock.

A few final tweaks to the router configurations were all it took to “switch on” the Internet link. The first thing I did to test the connection end-to-end was Google “Mfangano Island” and up popped a very responsive Google map. Robinson and Brian were impressed with how fast it updated as I zoomed in and out, switching on high-resolution satellite photos of the island.

Getting ready to leave a remote site for the last time is always a little nerve-wracking. You find yourself double and triple checking cables and connections, because you know leaving something unplugged would mean another long hike up to fix it. We again hiked down by headlamp, feeling a strong sense of satisfaction knowing the hardest work was out of the way.

Edwin and I spent our final day on the Island installing the EK center end of the short wireless link to the tower. It’s the EK center where all the computers are and where the Internet bandwidth actually reaches the end-users. Fortunately we’d done our job right at the tower, and the link came right up when we pointed the small Ubiquiti NanoBridge up at Soklo Mountain tower. Edwin ran the installation, and things went smoothly. We also installed a local wireless access point (a Ubiquiti NanoStationM2) in the EK center to make sure laptops throughout the small campus could benefit from the internet).

The satisfaction of a job well done

When I fired up a speed test site on one of the EK center computers and measured a blistering fast 8Mbps, the eyes of all 6 people watching over my shoulder went wide. This is truly one of my favorite moments of a wireless installation: when the high-speed bandwidth reaches the end users for the first time. Word traveled fast, and the EK center’s 10 computers were quickly full. I saw a lot of gMail, some Skype, a bit of Wikipedia, and some Google image searches in just the first 10 minutes.

After putting the finishing touches on the EK center installation, Edwin and I spent a few hours training Brian on the layout and maintenance of the network. We made sure pre-configured spares were handed off and hung a detailed diagram of the network to help with troubleshooting.

Climbing into the fishing boat and speeding away from the Island, I looked up at the Soklo Mountain tower. The large white dish glinted in the orange evening sun, clearly visible from a few km away. I talk a bit with Edwin about all the hard work over two years that AccessEnergy, Inveneo, SetRight, and especially by OHR invested in making that tower a reality…and we both smile. I’m excited to see where OHR takes this project next.

The FM transmitter installation is set to happen soon. OHR will be able to install the radio studio in the EK center, and to stream the audio up to the transmitter at the tower over the short wireless link. With the training and extra equipment we left behind, OHR is already talking about putting in a few more links to reach clinic and school sites on the Island. From what I’ve seen working on ICTD projects, perhaps the biggest factor in long term success or failure isn’t technology: it’s local ownership. Given what I know about the dedication of OHR’s team, I expect this wireless network to be around for a long time

City of Joy Bukavu, DRC

  1. Posted by Inveneo on March 22, 2012 in the categories: Healthcare, News, Projects
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Conceived, created and developed by the women on the ground, the City of Joy in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo supports women survivors of sexual violence to heal and provide them with opportunities to develop their leadership through innovative programming. Through its groundbreaking model, the City of Joy provides up to 180 women a year with an opportunity to benefit from: group therapy; storytelling; dance; theater; self-defense; comprehensive sexuality education (covering HIV/AIDS, family planning); ecology and horticulture; and economic empowerment. The City of Joy provides women a place to heal emotionally as they rebuild their lives, turn their pain to power, and return back into their communities to lead.