Inveneo WiFi Archives

Students Make Innovative Educational ICT Program for Micronesia

  1. Posted by Inveneo on June 12, 2015 in the categories: News
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Longtime Inveneo friend and colleague Dr. Laura Hosman has led her students this past semester on an exciting digital library project at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. One of the project’s leaders, Cecillia Tran, is a 5th year Liberal Arts Engineering Studies Major, and she recently spoke with Inveneo to give an explanation of the ICT project. She has been inspired by how people can make a powerful impact just by using older technology in inventive ways. Read the interview below.

  1. Inveneo: What is the SPELL Project?

SPELL stands for Solar Powered Educational Learning Library. Students in the Federated States of Micronesia as well as Vanuatu have no access to Internet or electricity in their schools. Our solution was to create and donate 50 solar-powered mini servers, pre-loaded with educational content, that could be connected to any WiFi enabled device through a WiFi dongle. The educational content our team curated onto an SD card was based through extensive research of what levels of education were needed on the islands. Some of the materials used were various Khan Academy videos on subject matters such as math, writing, and science. Due to a recent typhoon, we also decided to upload weather related content so students are better prepared if another accident were to happen.

SPELL Students and Dr. Laura Hosman

Dr. Laura Hosman (left) with several of her students working on the SPELL project.

  1. Since the Banana Pis are going to Chuuk, will the educational content be in English, Chuukese, or another language?

The educational content will be in English, since students are required to learn English in the classroom. However, there will be some content that is in Chuukese.

  1. What is the role that students play within the SPELL Project?

We divided into four teams. There is a contents and deployment team who are responsible for researching and curating the educational materials that is put on the SD card. There is a design team responsible for creating the outer shell for the mini-server itself so that there is a protective casing and an attached solar panel to power the server. We also have a SPOT team (systems performance optimization team) that is responsible for testing and configuring the Banana Pi (mini server) and WiFi dongle. And also, we have a promotions team that is responsible for the marketing and branding of the project. We even created a website and logo for the team.

  1. How will this project made a difference in Micronesia?

This project will give students who don’t have access to Internet or electricity a new way to receive their education. They will have the chance to be able to interact with electronic devices that many of us are fortunate enough to have easy access to. Our contents team is working very hard to provide a good, substantial amount of information and educational materials that would be helpful. The platform could possibly open their minds and eyes like never before.

  1. What lessons have you learned from this project?

I think we learned a lot of real world skills, especially teamwork; our class was composed of students from many different backgrounds of education. For example, we have many liberal arts and engineering studies majors, as well as electrical engineering, computer science, journalism, graphic communication, and political science. We’ve gained a lot of knowledge and have seen many different perspectives as we’ve moved along through different parts of the project. We also learned that projects will not always go as planned. We have hit many bumps in the road and have had to change directions, but it was a good experience for all of us. We managed to work our way through them. Finally, we learned a lot about Chuuk and the islands, what educational access they have, and how we can make a difference. That’s what excited me about this class: this project really could make a difference and we could reach out to people who are in need. It’s exciting to be a part of a project that would go beyond the classroom and make a tangible difference that matters in the world.

  1. What can the ICT community learn from SPELL’s experience?

I think it’s amazing what a difference a small group of 15 people can make. We were donated 50 Banana Pi brand units, given as part of LeMaker’s non-profit educational program. We turned them into a powerful educational tool that we believe could make a real difference in Chuuk students’ lives, as well as other countries, that may not have Internet access or electricity in their schools.

The ICT community should be aware that anything can make a difference. Products that one may think is outdated can be turned into something incredible that would help people. Sometimes it’s the small but innovative changes that can make a big impact.

Inveneo and Twitter Join Forces in San Francisco

  1. Posted by Inveneo on July 8, 2014 in the categories: Economic Development, News, Relief
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Inveneo Engineer Sam Perales discussing installation plans with Twitter volunteers.

Inveneo Engineer Sam Perales discussing installation plans with Twitter volunteers.

A charitable housing complex may be one of the last places you’d expect to find a group of Twitter coworkers gathered together on a Friday morning. But early on June 6th, they met up to join forces with the San Francisco-based WiFi organization called Inveneo to bring high-performing Internet access to Compass Clara House, a transitional housing program of Compass Family Services that helps homeless families get back on their feet.

Based in San Francisco, Compass Clara House consists of 13 apartments housing 13 families, which vary in size.  Parents and their children live in an apartment for up to two years and are offered services including employment counseling, enriched childcare, counseling and therapy and an afterschool program.  During their stay, parents are enrolled in an either an education or program with the goal of finding a self-sustaining job and all families are working towards finding a permanent home.

Twice a year Twitter encourages communities to band together and volunteer time at local charities. This program – known as #FridayforGood – brought Inveneo staff members together with Twitter employees.

The Clara House’s Internet connection was slow and left residents frustrated while they tried to look for jobs online. It was time to create a faster and more reliable link for the residents and their families.

Twitter and Inveneo brought 15 volunteers for the day. Sam Perales, Inveneo’s Senior Field Engineer, and Aaron Mason, Inveneo’s previous Sr. Marketing and Communications Manager, led the team. The event was also managed by one of San Francisco’s community leaders, Mike McCarthy.

Twitter4

Step by step, Inveneo guided Twitter employees on how to survey the building, run cables, and install the equipment. As soon as individual access points were plugged in, they were connected to the city’s WiFi configurations and fiber ring. By the end of the day the whole building was covered with better WiFi connectivity.

Twitter volunteers assembling wireless radio antenna mount.

Twitter volunteers assembling wireless radio antenna mount.

The Clara House’s new WiFi connection is now 15 Mbps, and the residents now have Internet that’s 10 to 15 times faster than before. Aaron Mason reported that as soon as the WiFi connection was up a few of the building’s kids rushed to try their online games.

The city of San Francisco is currently offering bandwidth and is working to bring city housing online. Current residents of Clara House do not pay for the Internet because the city is giving the building broadband access for free.

In just one day Clara House gained fast, reliable Internet access thanks to Twitter and Inveneo employees coming together. Sam Perales said, “It was great to see such a collaborative program between Inveneo, Twitter, and the city of San Francisco to help Clara House. The Twitter volunteers were very motivated and positive, and Inveneo was happy to help facilitate the technological aspect of it.”

If you would like to learn more about Twitter’s Friday for Good program or how you can get involved, please visit the Twitter blog.

Members of the team connecting WiFi access points on top of Clara House.

Members of the team connecting WiFi access points on top of Clara House.

Solar Powered WiFi Links in Micronesia

  1. Posted by Inveneo on September 11, 2012 in the categories: Economic Development, News, Projects
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Two long-distance, solar-powered wireless point-to-point connections were set up in the Micronesian Region of the Pacific in early August 2012. The installations were part of the Pacific Island Schools Connectivity, Education, and Solar (PISCES) Project, a multi-partnered endeavor focused on training and local capacity building vis-à-vis solar-powered information and communications technology (ICT) within the Pacific region. This project falls under the umbrella of Inveneo’s innovative Broadband for Good initiative.

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

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

Building Haiti Back Better with Unifi

  1. Posted by Inveneo on July 31, 2012 in the categories: News, Projects, Relief
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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.

20% of the Haitian Population Now Has Broadband Access via the Haiti Connected Cities Program

  1. Posted by Inveneo on June 20, 2012 in the categories: Economic Development, News, Projects
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Inveneo is committed to bringing real economic and education opportunities to Haiti in 2011-2012 through the Haiti Rural Broadband Initiative, also known as the Haiti Connect Cities program, and its related efforts, launched in January 2011. HRBI is a collaborative program involving Haitian Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Haitian IT entrepreneurs and the many organizations – NGOs and otherwise – that will benefit from access to reliable and affordable broadband Internet.

Building on last year’s progress, in the first quarter of 2012, Inveneo’s Haiti Rural Broadband Initiative (HRBI) continues to make progress in all key program areas:


1st Quarter 2012 HRBI Report

Network Build Out/Infrastructure
Inveneo engineers and our local partners have successfully completed Zones 1 – 5 of the network. This backbone comprised of hundreds of radios at 31 tower sites now provides a fully operational and stable network to connect 65 clients in these regions of Haiti.

Entrepreneur Training – BATI Program
A total of 64 BATI have now been trained throughout six provinces of Haiti: Artibonite, Cap Haitien, West, South East, Central Plateau and Grand Anse.

Network Governance and Operations
Inveneo handed off the day-to-day operations of the network to Haitian organizations in the first quarter, reaching a significant milestone.

Inveneo established a framework by which BATI provide the first line of support followed by the Haitian telecommunications company Haicom and their team, who have taken over the Network Operations Center (NOC) responsibilities. On a daily basis, they monitor the ever-growing rural network while the ICIP Transversal handles every physical installation and all maintenance of the equipment across Haiti.

Monitoring & Evaluation
Independent evaluation experts Mission Measurement (funded by the USAID Global Broadband and Innovations Initiative) released a draft version of the closing report on the social and financial impact of the Haiti Connected Cities program. Some affirming statistics from the report include:

  • As of April 2012, the broadband network covers 20.72% of the Haitian population.
  • In the case of NGOs, the increased efficiency [from broadband Internet connectivity through HRBI] drives development outcomes by allowing the organizations to better deliver their services through increasing beneficiary access, service quality and timeliness.
  • One of the strongest assets of the model, the BATI training program, has led to a networked group of local IT entrepreneurs who have built their own businesses, acquired clients, hired employees, obtained ISP contracts, and enjoyed increased incomes.

Challenges and Solutions
Customer acquisition is slower than anticipated. This is due to a number of factors, including: Complex processes within the ISPs to absorb the BATI; Speed of customer order process – organizations in rural Haiti need to work through 
multiple steps in order to get contracts signed by their country offices located in Port-au-Prince; Insufficient sales capabilities of the BATI themselves.

We are currently seeking additional funding in order to conduct supplemental entrepreneurial, marketing and process training with the BATI to accelerate customer acquisition. Inveneo is currently developing a detailed proposal to share with potential funders.

Haiti Connected Schools

Inveneo is partnering with Microsoft, World Vision and HP to deliver 40 ICT labs in rural schools across the regions where the broadband network has been deployed. In Q1 of 2012, HCS added solar-powered computer labs to an additional six schools (19 in all) in four departments in Haiti: Artibonite, Central Plateau, Ouest and Nord. One school installation was completed with a new solar partner, Solar Electric Light Fund, a US-based non-profit. Also, 18 teachers were trained with the new basic curriculum and 5 with the advanced administrator curriculum. This is brings the total teachers trained to 98.

The next phase of Haiti Connected Schools will bring rapid program expansion to more schools in rural Haiti now that processes, materials and qualified local resources are in place. Inveneo and NetHope received a grant from Intel to provide basic computer training in rural communities. Together, the two organizations will leverage the curricula, local trainers, train-the-trainer approach and computer labs implemented through HCS to offer training to new populations in the communities.

Working Past Bees for Long-Distance WiFi Networking

  1. Posted by Inveneo on April 25, 2012 in the categories: Economic Development, News, Projects
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Planning an installation in a remote area asks for a lot of careful thought: one doesn’t want to be in the middle of nowhere missing a specific piece of equipment thus having to drive back several kilometers to complete the work. The unexpected being expected, even after several installations, you are never too cautious. But, what level of ’unexpectedness’ can a tower full of wasp nest be?

Bees in general are not really harmful to humans. Living in a tropical country you have been stung enough by these insects to know if you are of the allergic type. At best if you have a cold or indigestion it may cure you. This level of risk falls into the category of negligible.

But talking of something and seeing it right in front of you are two different things. The colors, the noise, the menacing zigzags and of course old memories, all this being put together, you think twice before even starting to put on the climbing gears. And just when your courage is at a sufficient level to face the wasp, local superstitions shatter it in thousands of pieces.

I am Jeffrey Carre of Transversal and recently we had to verify an old installation at Pont-Sonde, a small town on the way to Gonaive, pass St Marc in Haiti. With no hills to climb, and the site being right in the middle of the town, it’s not a difficult site.

Food and water are at hand ad you don’t have to drive a long way to get to a passable road. The aiming is generally easy in such a flat land that these usually take half a day of work to setup everything and pass the acceptance test. But…

“They can give you a fever so unbearable that you may not have enough time to go to the hospital,” the guardian says. Some time ago our townsfolk pride would have us walk past that statement with a “Let me show you how we do things,” tone and maybe we would have shamefully been victim of that ego… But today that bee problem was taken seriously. The questions is how to get pass that problem:

 

  • Bug spray is a real bad way the get rid of them – it kills some and infuriates the rest. They fall on the ground and fly back at you right away with their last remaining breath. And personally seeing all those creatures fall and die, you cannot help to think of yourself as an evil, heartless person (just a little).
  • Smoke. Yes but you have to climb high enough to reach them and they are sometimes in unexpected places. You have to use it on your way up and also, less easy, on the way down. Every nest that is on your path must be submitted to smoke for long enough to drowse the wasps. We don’t have that time.
  • Gas/oil. We once used this to repel hornets from the lightning arrestors they were using to construct their mud nest. We didn’t have enough with us and we couldn’t think of a good way to spread it.
  • Fire, same almost as smoke but for clear reasons, not a good solution.
  • Luck, hopefully you go up and don’t put your hand right in the middle of a nest. We engineers prefer not to play with luck to much. We prefer quantifiable and measurable facts, but then again, sometimes it surprises you pleasantly.

The guardian happened to be a beekeeper and had in his possession a pair of protective suits and it would only take him 5 minutes to get them for us. No need to tell what a relief he was to us. Maybe he enjoyed being our hero but he continued to help us by reassuring us. We learned that:

  • Bees, wasps, and hornets only attack when they sense danger. So if we calmly approach them they will stay away from us.
  • They tend to build their nest at a specific height, not to high to avoid strong currents and not to low to avoid the heat and natural enemies. So as soon as we pass that “activity zone” there is no need to watch out for them.
  • And the most beautiful part: bees are a sign of life and hope, and as we are spreading life and hope via our Internet installation they are doing the same with the flower pollen.

We put on the protective suits under the climbing gears and started to work. And as the day goes by, I couldn’t help to think of the bees working as group, coordinating their movements, each taking care of a specific task.

This was at our 3rd site of the day and the sun was getting low on the sky. As we climbed down the tower and started to pack, nature was slowly falling asleep and even the bees were regaining the house. Their nests that were once very busy spots during the day were now calm – technology and nature in quiet harmony.

Lizards, Monkeys, and Bees – ICT Support Calls We’ve Received

  1. Posted by Inveneo on March 30, 2011 in the categories: News
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With rural ICT implementations in over 23 countries, Inveneo gets some interesting support calls as all manner of issues come about. Today from Kenya, we bring you the lizard that blew up the inverter.

Apparently a little green lizard thought an electrical inverter at one of our project sites would be a nice warm place to take a nap. ZAP! He became a fried lizard and took out the AC power system when he shorted out the inverter motherboard. Here’s a close-up.

Now this was an easy fix for our local partner, Winafrique. But not all of our support calls are so simple to diagnose and rectify. Here is one we received from Nepal:

A monkey is relocating the WiFi antenna on the roof. Please suggest the best troubleshooting steps for that.

Not having a wild monkey troop in San Francisco to test solutions with, the best we could do is come up with these three options for our Nepali partners to try:

  1. Coat antenna with cayenne pepper to annoy the monkey
  2. Electrify a fake antenna to teach the monkey to stay away
  3. And if those didn’t work, make monkey stew

Usually though, our local partners have a solution, like the time killer bees nested in another WiFi box. No one wants to disturb a killer bees’ nest, but honey conducts electricity and the bees were shorting out the router, taking out Internet access to the project site.

Our local partner in the project, Norbert Okec, knew the local beekeeper, borrowed a beekeeper outfit, and cleaned, repaired and reinstalled the WiFi box. To quote Mark Summer,

It shows just how important it is to have local partners to help with installations, support and many of the other issues you can never predict in Africa and Haiti.

Lizards, Monkeys, and Bees – ICT Support Calls We've Received

  1. Posted by sguser on March 30, 2011 in the categories: News
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With rural ICT implementations in over 23 countries, Inveneo gets some interesting support calls as all manner of issues come about. Today from Kenya, we bring you the lizard that blew up the inverter.

Apparently a little green lizard thought an electrical inverter at one of our project sites would be a nice warm place to take a nap. ZAP! He became a fried lizard and took out the AC power system when he shorted out the inverter motherboard. Here’s a close-up.

Now this was an easy fix for our local partner, Winafrique. But not all of our support calls are so simple to diagnose and rectify. Here is one we received from Nepal:

A monkey is relocating the WiFi antenna on the roof. Please suggest the best troubleshooting steps for that.

Not having a wild monkey troop in San Francisco to test solutions with, the best we could do is come up with these three options for our Nepali partners to try:

  1. Coat antenna with cayenne pepper to annoy the monkey
  2. Electrify a fake antenna to teach the monkey to stay away
  3. And if those didn’t work, make monkey stew

Usually though, our local partners have a solution, like the time killer bees nested in another WiFi box. No one wants to disturb a killer bees’ nest, but honey conducts electricity and the bees were shorting out the router, taking out Internet access to the project site.

Our local partner in the project, Norbert Okec, knew the local beekeeper, borrowed a beekeeper outfit, and cleaned, repaired and reinstalled the WiFi box. To quote Mark Summer,

It shows just how important it is to have local partners to help with installations, support and many of the other issues you can never predict in Africa and Haiti.