Inveneo Bob Marsh Archives

Putting the World’s Impoverished Communities Online: Five Questions for Bob Marsh

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on June 18, 2018 in the categories: Publications

This post was originally published on Engineering for Change’s website and written by E4C’s Contributor Rob Goodier. View the original post here.

Bob Marsh installs WiFi antennas on the roof of a microfinance institution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Bob Marsh is a household name and the subject of dinner party conversations in a certain kind of household and select dinner parties. The kind populated that are popular among computer scientists and engineers. In the 1970s, Marsh was an early member of the Homebrew Computer Club, where members traded tech and tips, and Apple co-founder Stephen Wozniak went to people’s homes to help them build their own Apple I. Together with Lee Felsenstein, also a member of the club, Marsh  designed and built the popular Sol-20 personal computer and began sales in 1976.

Now Marsh’s work reflects the club’s theme, “Give to help others.” He is the co-founder and executive director of Inveneo, traveling to underserved communities around the world to install computer and Internet connectivity hardware. He recently helped to put 100 youth centers in Palestine online, and trained technicians to operate a Network Operations Center in Accra, Ghana, as part of the Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI) project that serves Ebola medical centers and NGOs in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. In all, he has worked in 15 African countries, Bangladesh, Haiti and Nepal.

We asked Bob Marsh five questions.

E4C: You once said that a key difference between rural Africa and rural America is Google. Have you seen an example of the Google advantage at work after you’ve provided Internet access?

BM: Unfortunately, Inveneo staff rarely get a chance to return to project sites after completion. This is because we are usually sub-contractors for larger NGOs that are responsible for the M&E phases. Anecdotally, I personally have seen people in rural Kenya, Burkina Faso and Botswana using Google at project sites. However, I don’t remember what they were searching for.

My point was that it’s quite difficult to get information from outside one’s own rural community without Internet access, but that we here in the rich countries now take for granted (and hardly think twice about it) access to a vast array of information on any subject.

E4C: Would you tell us a little about the hardware that you’re installing in developing countries?

BM: Originally, back in 2005, we were building our own low power consumption 12VDC battery-powered computers using VIA motherboards. These had rather low CPU horsepower, but enough to run a Linux desktop and server. We found a number of 12VDC LCD monitors to pair with the VIA PCs.

The next year we found a thin-client PC made by Wyse that was very small and inexpensive and we created our own Linux distro to run in just 128MB of memory.

By late 2007, low power computing had become somewhat mainstream, and we found an AMD-powered unit made in Taiwan that would run either Linux or Windows XP or 7. This unit was considerably more powerful than the Wyse and could include a 16GB 2.5” hard drive or 4GB SSD storage.

By 2009, Taiwan’s Asus began making very low power complete systems that included Windows 7 for reasonable prices (as low as $255). Inveneo used various models of the Asus eeeBox series for several years after that, plus some very low power LED/LCD monitors from Asus.

However, for the past two years, we’ve been more involved with tablet-based projects, primarily using the Google Nexus 7 series, also made by Asus.

E4C: What are some of the obstacles in hardware installations that you face now?

BM: Printers remain a challenge. While laser printers have the lowest cost per page, they use a lot of power. Inkjet printers can use very little power, but often use a lot of expensive ink cartridges.

The main challenges in rural IT installations are:

  1. Either complete lack of electricity, or poor quality electricity from the national grid.
  2. High heat and humidity, or even worse in many cases, lots of dust.
  3. Lack of knowledgeable technical support people outside of the capital city.
  4. Lack of broadband Internet access at an affordable price.

E4C: What are some of the improvements that you’d like to see in the technology that you work with in developing countries?

BM: Needed are:

  1. Cheaper and simpler solar power systems, longer life battery energy storage
  2. Cheaper broadband mobile infrastructure (I believe Facebook is working on this, as are others)

Frankly, a lot of the challenges are more software related, e.g. more comprehensive materials that follow a country’s curricula, software to track pupils progress and attendance, as well as teacher performance.

E4C: Do you have a story from your work that gives a glimpse of a day in your life on the road?

BM: Local knowledge is always valuable, but we learned early on to remain skeptical. In Western Uganda, we did a project to connect houses in 5 villages to an Community Center office near the highway (a very dusty dirt road) that had an Internet connection. Each house would have a low power computer, solar panel and battery, with a long range wifi radio to access Internet and a local VoIP service.

We only had a hand drawn map showing the various neighboring villages, as they were not shown on any other paper or online maps. One targeted village was 1000ft up on the slopes of the Ruwenzori Mountains nearby, but there were a number of similar looking villages that could be seen with the naked eye or binoculars. So we asked three different local people to point out which village was the correct one, and received three different answers. Ultimately we sent people up to the village, who had to walk up steep path, as there was no road. Even with binoculars from the They used a mirror to flash their location to some of us at the bottom of the hill, and we found that the correct mountain-side village was none of the three that the locals had pointed out! Worse, that target village could not be seen from the Community Center, and as the radio links needed direct Line-of-Sight, we had to completely re-configure the whole network to find a way to reach the mountain-side village.

This post was originally published on Engineering for Change’s website and written by E4C’s Contributor Rob Goodier. View the original post here.

How Will Inveneo Monitor 100 Internet Sites in the Future?

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on February 10, 2015 in the categories: News

Inveneo has been incredibly busy this past month gearing up to create 25 distribution points that will connect 100 sites with solid, reliable Internet connectivity. As part of the Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI) project, these new Internet connections will be used by Ebola medical centers or NGOs in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.

Once these connections are made, how will they be managed? Inveneo is already well underway to answer this question: by creating a NOC (Network Operations Center) that will be located in Accra, Ghana.

Our Inveneo Certified ICT Partner in Accra is TechAide, and this past month our team member Bob Marsh travelled to Accra to begin preliminary training for TechAide technicians who will eventually run the NOC. Kafui Prebbie, the current CEO of TechAide, brought several team members to be part of the training: Selassie Anku, TechAide’s main backup engineer, Courage Anku, its primary NOC engineer, and Godfred Prebbie, TechAide’s CTO.

BobNocTraining1TechAide’s engineers and Bob Marsh spent the first day of training focusing on the theoretical and organizational aspects of the Ebola Response program and the hardware configurations that are deployed in the field. The participants worked on exercises with Ubiquiti equipment, concentrating on how to resolve issues. Eventually Inveneo and TechAide will be using a set of sophisticated cloud-based software tools to manage the NOC.

The engineer’s next steps are to read all the elements of the curriculum materials from the training to further their learning. Bob Marsh was excited to see the enthusiasm of the participants, and our current joint effort is to the make sure the NOC is fully operational by March 4th, 2015. In addition, Inveneo’s Project Engineer Eric Zan will be traveling to Accra in mid-February in order to offer more NOC training before he joins other Inveneo workers in Sierra Leone. Inveneo’s Samuel Perales will also provide follow-on operational training and coaching when he returns to Accra from Sierra Leone in early March.

The NOC has been created to offer our 100 newly connected sites:

  1. Monitoring performance to see if there is a problem.
  2. Responding quickly to a reported problem. This may be fast enough that users in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea will not be aware of any issue.
  3. Diagnosis and dispatching after a problem is reported. Those working at the NOC will figure out if they can fix the issues remotely or not. If they are unable to fix it from Accra, they will contact the Inveneo ICIP that is geographically closest to the problem.

The NOC in Accra, Ghana will constantly monitor all connected sites. For three months after the NOC launches, TechAide workers will work 8 hour shifts and 6 days a week to ensure any problems are quickly dealt with and Internet access is maintained. We certainly applaud all the hard work and time that they will be putting in! Many thanks to TechAide for their partnership and the great work they are doing to keep an eye on the ERCI program’s 100 Internet-connection locations!

BobNocTraining2

Jonathan B. Postel Technical Academy Opens in Kendu Bay, Kenya

  1. Posted by Inveneo on February 29, 2012 in the categories: Economic Development, News, Projects

The 1986 CSNET Executive Team Meeting

Sometimes the greatest advocates for Inveneo’s work emerge from the most unlikely of places: retirement! Much like our own Bob Marsh, a personal computing pioneer dating back to his days with the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley, other veteran technologists have recognized the vision and efforts behind Inveneo’s work in getting the tools of ICTs to those who need it most in rural and underserved areas across the world. Our most recent supporters come from the ICT networking field.

The Internet Society (ISOC) presented its 2009 Jonathan B Postel Service Award to CSNET, recognizing the groundbreaking work of the Computer Science Network, the research effort in the early 1980s that laid the groundwork for what became today’s Internet. The four founders of CSNET – Peter J. Denning, David Farber, Anthony C. Hearn and Lawrence Landweber – were collectively lauded for having made outstanding contributions in service to the data communications community.

Unanimously, the four award winners chose to donate the proceeds of their award to another deserving community – Kendu Bay, Kenya. Known primarily for being the birthplace of President Obama’s father, Kendu Bay is a small town at the center of an underserved community in Western Kenya.

With the $20,000 in funding from the Postel Service Award, Inveneo has implemented the Jonathan B. Postel Technical Academy. Run by local organization Rachuonyo Online Networks, the Technical Academy will be co-located with a Cisco Networking Academy, offering a multitude of learning and training opportunities for participants of varying levels of technical expertise.

“We are honored to help create the Postel Technical Academy in Kendu Bay. We believe it extends Jon Postel’s vision of a broadly accessible Internet that brings people together,” said Lawrence Landweber, one of the CSNET principal investigators recognized by the 2009 Jonathan B. Postel award. “The Postel academy also continues the CSNET legacy of empowering people around the world to communicate and collaborate through the use and understanding of networking technology.”

“The people of Karachuonyo are really looking forward to building ICT skills with support from the 2009 Jonthan B. Postel Award winners,” said Kennedy Kabasa, assistant to Hon. James Rege, Member of Parliament for Karachuonyo, Kenya, where the Postel Technical Academy is located. “This initiative will enable us to help bridge the shortage of ICT skills and infrastructure in the region, and allow our people to participate more fully with others from all over the world in this wave of technology.”

You too can join Bob Marsh, the CSNET founders, and other technology luminaries in supporting Inveneo’s efforts around the world.