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.
TechAide’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:
Monitoring performance to see if there is a problem.
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.
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!
Late in 2011, Inveneo partnered with Green WiFi and the Illinois Institute of Technology to bring WiFi to a semi-rural school in Lascahobas, Haiti. The team wanted to use the most effective technology but was concerned with the hassles in setting up a shared, wireless WiFi network, which include:
The need to change passwords frequently (which take extra steps and time)
The inability to automatically add MAC addresses onto systems
Users unable to seamlessly roam from one access point (AP) to the next
Administrators unable to manage all the APs from one location
The need for multitude of cables and AC power outlets for all those Aps
Installing a Unifi access point
Inveneo learned of Ubiquiti Unifi, a WiFi system combining carrier class performance, unlimited scalability, and a virtual management controller all at disruptively low pricing. Inveneo wanted to test it and soon installed Unifi devices at mission*social, a shared workspace in California.
The results came in and Inveneo realized that it was stable and usable. Also, users were able to roam through the space and seamlessly connect from one access point to another without disruption. After Inveneo knew that it worked and was excited about the results, the next step was to install Unifi in Haiti.
At the Haitian school École Fondamentale d’Application Centre d’Appui Pédagogique (EFACAP), Unifi was installed by a partner team of Green WiFi, Illinois Institute of Technology, and Inveneo to ensure that students would have Internet. The Internet backhaul was created by establishing a long-distance link that connected the EFACAP school to a communications tower located in the nearby town, Lascahobas.
Bruce Baikie, Senior Director of Inveneo and President of Green WiFi, provided technical advice to the team throughout the process. Additionally, classes were provided for local technicians to ensure the WiFi connection would have local support and long-term maintenance. With the successful Unifi installation, the school’s 400 laptops can give students access to online educational resources.
Inveneo has a history of utilizing Ubiquiti products in our broadband deployments, and many Ubiquiti products are Inveneo Certified Solutions.
Now Inveneo is proud to announce that we are a Ubiquiti Authorized Training Partner and Jen Overgaag, our Senior Project Engineer, is a Ubiquiti Certified Trainer. On March 19-21, Jen traveled to Ubiquiti’s headquarters in Chicago, IL, to complete the first Ubiquiti Training Academy course – Ubiquiti airMAX Certification (UAC). Jen says:
“The Ubiquiti Certified Trainer course was an outstanding experience. The instructors Jamie, Salvador, and Matt were incredibly knowledgeable, adapted to the needs of a very diverse class, and created an environment where trainees could share their professional successes and challenges to learn from each other. I’m now armed with all the tools I need to be an effective trainer, and look forward to training our partners on networking with Ubiquiti solutions.”
As a Ubiquiti Certified Trainer, Jen joined the Ubiquiti training community and will bring enhanced skills-transfer techniques to Inveneo deployments around the world, increasing the capacity of our local ICIP partners and the ICT ecosystems in which they work.
At Inveneo, we like to test new technologies thoroughly before we deploy them in the field, including installing and using them in our offices. In Silicon Valley, this is called “eating your own dog food” and it is a time-honored way to drive innovation that is actually practical and useful.
Recently, we heard about Ubiquiti UniFi, which is a WiFi system combining carrier class performance, unlimited scalability, and a virtual management controller all at disruptively low pricing. To test it out, we’ve installed 4 Ubiquiti UniFi access points throughout mission*social, the shared workspace for social enterprises organized by Inveneo.
UniFi solves many local WiFi issues
There are six social enterprises and countless visitors who work out of mission*social, and Inveneo manages 3 local wifi networks to support them: 1 for Inveneo staff, 1 for mission*social staff, and 1 for visitors. Each of these networks has different bandwidth and security requirements.
Previously, we had consumer grade access points where one access point was its own independent wireless network – we had to manage each access point separately and users had to manually switch between networks. With Unifi, each of the four new access points we installed will serve the three wireless networks seamlessly.
Users will be able to freely roam from one AP’s coverage area to another, and the UniFi “virtual controller” will make sure the user is always connected to the access point with the strongest coverage. We are still working through a learning curve with the UniFi controller management platform, but the interface is nice, and it allows us to show access point status and coverage overlaid on a floorplan of our office.
As an added bonus, installation of the access points was pretty painless, and once installed, they look much more professional than installations we’ve seen done with consumer gear. Best of all, UniFi gives us enterprise-level WiFi at consumer prices.
Inveneo engineers have been busy in Haiti! With our extension of the high-speed wireless backbone over an 82km wireless link from Port-au-Prince to a mountaintop site in the Central Massif, we shattered our previous internal record for longest link deployed, set in May 2010 and spanning 55km, from Port-au-Prince to Vallue.
This new long link is the first step in bringing broadband connectivity to nonprofits, public agencies and small businesses in the underserved Central Plateau and Artibonite Valley regions and beyond.
We put up this link with our standard long distance WiFi workhorse: the Ubiquiti RocketM5 radio with the 30 dBi RocketDish antenna. We were pleasantly surprised with the signal strength captured by this little dish on such a long link: up to a booming -74 dBm! (For the non-technical folk: smaller negative numbers mean greater received power).
We arrived at the installation site prepared to install the significantly larger 34 dBi RocketDish, but given the strong performance of the smaller model we decided to hold off installing the larger dishes until we can streamline them with aerodynamic covers called radomes to cut down on wind load. With conservative performance settings, we’ve been able to push 20+ Mbps over this link in both directions and expect to do much better once we put the larger dishes in place.
Wireless networks are relatively easy to deploy. This is one of the reasons they are such a good fit for the rural and developing world. After we identify a favorable relay location, we verify line-of-sight to an existing site using link analysis software and a site survey. Once we verify the link we position our engineers at each end with a small kit of gear. Though the rough roads in rural Haiti, Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere can make this process difficult, it’s certainly easier than digging 82km of trench and stringing 82km of cable or fiber.
With sites identified and the link verified, a few days of hard installation work is all it takes to get a broadband Internet connection on a remote rural hilltop in Haiti’s Central Plateau. While the logistics of getting the right people and equipment are not simple, they are made substantially easier by the compact rugged equipment we use and are by far easier than installing fiber or cable. Next stop: putting up distribution and last-mile links to bring Internet to organizations subscribing to this reliable connectivity throughout rural Haiti.
As Inveneo builds a long-distance wireless Internet network that will be shared with 15-20 NGO’s in Haiti, we’re designing the high-speed point-to-point WiFi links to be robust and sustainable. We want the NetHope member agencies to focus on delivery of critical relief services, not troubleshooting routers or antennas.
In that effort, we’re using Ubiquiti technology, the cheapest, highest performing hardware for quick WiFi network buildout. But for it to handle the complexity and bandwidth of our multi-node network, we needed to enhance the Ubiquiti AirOS firmware to be a self-configuring intelligent routing protocol.
Crisis Camp Collaboration
Crisis Commons, an international volunteer network of technology professionals, joined Inveneo’s effort on Saturday via their Crisis Camp initiative. A team of software developers and hackers for good in Washington DC, took the lead in defining the problem at hand, scoping the possible solutions, and implementing what became the final, successful approach: adding Quagga, which can route using OSPF, to the Ubiquiti AirOS firmware.
Thanks to their efforts, we’ve added Quagga to the AirOS firmware and tested it on Ubiquiti hardware in Inveneo’s San Francisco offices. From there it will be sent to Haiti to be flashed and configured on the network hardware.
Our long-term goal is to have this updated firmware brought into the base firmware for Ubiquiti, increasing the quality and flexibility of WiFi networking hardware in every country – not just Haiti, and not just for Inveneo.
How You Can Volunteer
Inveneo expects to have future needs like this – remote support in communications networks, logistics, and software development. If you have experience in these areas and the ability to volunteer on a regular basis, please register with Inveneo. We are developing a database of volunteers and skill sets for Haiti and future projects.
Do note that only Inveneo employees will be sent to Haiti as part of this project. There are inherent dangers in working in a disaster area and safety considerations are paramount. Therefore, we cannot accept responsibility for anyone other than our own employees.
More Support Options
Thanks to NetHope, the EKTA Foundation, Aruba Networks, the Orr Foundation, and Steve and Andrea Okay, we have support for the initial deployment. We are making an appeal for donations to cover the quickly escalating costs associated with our expanding Haiti relief efforts.
Please consider donating to Inveneo using PayPal or Google Checkout below. Inveneo is a US-based 501(c)3 non-profit charitable organization. If you are a US resident, your donation may be tax deductible.
All donations through January 31, 2010 will be used only for Haiti relief efforts, including the project to get connectivity to the major NGOs in Haiti.
Donate via Google Checkout
You can make a donation through this Google Checkout link: