Inveneo Uganda 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.

Inveneo Awarded the Internet Now! Project in Uganda

  1. Posted by Inveneo on April 5, 2012 in the categories: Economic Development, News, Projects

Inveneo has been selected for the Internet infrastructure segment of the newly launched Internet Now! Project in Uganda. Working with Oxfam Novib, Arid Lands Information Network, and Samasource, Inveneo will provide computer hardware and Internet connection to 100 planned ICT work centers, all of which are targeted for rural Northern Ugandan regions.

The Internet Now! project aims to implement 100 ICT work centers, that will offer outsourced ICT data services, wireless Internet access via a wireless café hotspot model, and services such as agricultural education and crop pricing information. All of this with the goal to generate increased income and employment in rural communities of northern Uganda.

The network of 100 ICT centers will cover a total population of 872,000 people in the districts of Adjumani, Amuru/Gulu and Moyo. Each center will have two fully equipped and renovated rooms with 10 PC workstations for visitors to use. All centers will be stand-alone solar powered, independent from a grid, and are staffed with a Field Officer and two Knowledge Facilitators, who will provide training and support to center visitors.

Inveneo in conjunction with CLS Ltd., an Inveneo Certified ICT Partner in Uganda, will deploy energy-efficient, high performance computers and reliable Internet connections at each center. In addition, Inveneo will lead the network backbone planning and negotiations with Ugandan ISP’s and wireless carriers.

Inveneo is excited to be part of the Internet Now! project as it will bring Internet connectivity and employment opportunities to an area of Africa where such needs and potential benefits are great.

Congratulations to the Arid Lands Information Network on winning the $1 million Access to Learning Award

  1. Posted by Inveneo on August 30, 2011 in the categories: Economic Development, News

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation presented its 2011 Access to Learning Award of $1 million to the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), which provides knowledge and information through a variety of innovative channels in remote communities throughout Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Microsoft, a partner of the foundation in its efforts to help public libraries connect people with relevant technology and skills, will provide ALIN with a donation of over US$270,000 worth of software and technology training curriculum to help the organization serve the local community.

ALIN’s 12 Knowledge Centers – known as Maarifa Centers – focus on providing practical information, particularly in the area of agricultural development. The vast majority of people in these regions are small-scale farmers who need information about issues such as drought, pests, and finding markets for their crops. The centers offer information geared toward the communities’ specific needs.

Maarifa Centers also address health issues such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, ways to improve people’s daily lives such as how to create an energy efficient biogas stove, and administrative requirements such as applying for an official identity card or getting tax exempt status. Some people have used the centers to create groups for the disabled, earn advanced degrees online, or create thriving small businesses.

In Uganda’s northern regions, Maarifa Centers employ Inveneo High-Performance Computing Stations installed by CLS Limited, an Inveneo Certified ICT Partner, to to help community members gain information to improve their health, increase their incomes, and better their lives.

Congratulations to Winafrique: A Bloomberg New Energy Finance Pioneer

  1. Posted by Inveneo on April 20, 2011 in the categories: Economic Development, News

The Bloomberg New Energy Finance Pioneers program identifies companies from across the world that are making significant gains in the field of clean technology and innovation. A panel of industry experts chose ten honorees by assessing them against three criteria: potential scale, innovation and momentum.

Included in this year’s winners – innovators in bioenergy, energy smart technologies, water and solar – is Winafrique Technologies Limited, an Inveneo Certified ICT Partner (ICIP).

Winafrique Technologies Limited is the first company in East Africa to successfully integrate renewable energy into the telecommunication sector, government projects and private firms. They have installed and are contracted to maintain over 150 wind/solar/diesel hybrid power systems in off-grid base station sites all over Kenya. Winafrique is also deploying solar projects for schools, knowledge centers and health centers, many with Inveneo.

“This award recognizes our work and effort in clean energy space, not only in Kenya but across the globe as innovative and sustainable,” said Mr. Anthony Ng’eno, Winafrique Managing Director,. “I am proud of the world class, game changing work done by Winafrique!!”.

Congratulations to Winafrique! We look forward to working with them as they expand into Angola, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

 

Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach (Bosco) Uganda

  1. Posted by Inveneo on September 15, 2010 in the categories: News, Projects, Relief

BOSCO focuses on providing innovative information and communication technology (ICT) solutions using a collaborative and Internet approach to foster socio-economic development and peace building in rural communities in Northern Uganda.

 

 

CLS Deploys Solar Computing Solutions at 52 Ugandan Schools

  1. Posted by Inveneo on June 9, 2010 in the categories: Education, News, Projects, Uncategorized

The Computers for Schools programme in Uganda is an effort by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to establish functional computer laboratories with modern equipment in selected schools.

In August 2009, the UCC held a competitive bidding process for a contract to supply computer labs to 52 schools. These schools are all located in regions with limited or non-existent electricity supply, so the computers must rely on solar power.

CLS, a certified Inveneo Partner, bid and won the competitive tender for 52 ICT centers by offering the best value for the UCC – Inveneo High-Performance Computing Stations and the solar power to operate them.

This March, CLS completed the installation of all 52 labs ahead of schedule. At each school, they installed ten Inveneo High-Performance Computing Stations, one Inveneo R4 server, a wireless LAN hub, and 7W DC lamps. Read the installation report (PDF) for the full details.

Solar Power Computing

To power the electronics, CLS installed eight 90W solar panels, three 200Ah deep cycle batteries, two 30A charge controllers using the Inveneo power configuration model.

The solar panels convert sunlight into energy, which is stored in the batteries through the charge controllers.

The solar power system is designed to require an average of five hours of sunshine to fully charge the batteries. At full charge, the batteries can run the ten computing stations and server for up to ten hours.

CLS is the leading supplier of low-power computing in Uganda.

MVP Ruhiira, Uganda

  1. Posted by Inveneo on October 7, 2009 in the categories: Economic Development, News

The Millennium Villages are proving that by fighting poverty at the village level through community-led development, rural Africa can achieve the Millennium Development Goals — global targets for reducing extreme poverty and hunger by half and improving education, health, gender equality and environmental sustainability — by 2015, and escape the extreme poverty that traps hundreds of millions of people throughout the continent.

Simple solutions like providing high-yield seeds, fertilizers, medicines, drinking wells, and materials to build school rooms and clinics are effectively combating extreme poverty and nourishing communities into a new age of health and opportunity. Improved science and technology such as agroforestry, insecticide-treated bed nets, antiretroviral drugs, the Internet, remote sensing, and geographic information systems enriches this progress. Over a 10-year period spanning two five-year phases, community committees an d local governments build capacity to continue these initiatives and develop a solid foundation for sustainable growth.

Currently 500,000 people in 14 different sites in 10 countries are part of the project. Each cluster site is located in a distinctagro-ecological zone which together, represent the farming systems used by 90% of the agricultural population of sub-Saharan Africa. (description courtesy of the MVP website)