Inveneo Andris Bjornson Archives

Top Photos: Our Chief Technology Officer in the Field

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on May 12, 2014 in the categories: News

Inveneo is lucky to have had Andris Bjornson on its team for the past five years. Working as the Chief Technology Officer, Andris led the engineering team with outstanding vision, expertise, and dedication that could easily be seen throughout all of Inveneo’s projects he was involved in. Staff members described Andris as a manager with great technical knowledge who remained focused throughout all different kinds of challenges. A few members of the engineering team explained further:

“He always paid extra attention to detail. If something was on his plate, you know it would get done 110%. He was a solid team member and was excellent at troubleshooting problems throughout projects in the field.”

“We knew he was a committed leader, and he always did whatever was necessary to see an ICIP’s project succeed.”

Andris will no longer be with Inveneo because he is moving on to an exciting new venture with VoloInveneo’s first spinoff that’s creating “broadband for the next billion”. He plans to travel to Uganda for three months to help Volo deploy its first network.

The Inveneo team is very grateful for all the hard work and dedication that Andris has poured into the organization, ICIPs, and other partners over the past several years. We wish him the very best in the future!

Check out a few photos below of Andris’ work in the field. All photos courtesy of Andris Bjornson, Prairie Summer, or Inveneo staff.

Are you interested in becoming our next Chief Technology Officer? Click here to apply for the job today!

Sukrabare install complete

Andris Bjornson (center) in Nepal with Romel (Smart Solutions), Sudip (Nepal Ministry of Information and Communication), Bobendra (Online Computers), and Prem (SoftSpace). They are celebrating another successfully installed Postal Information Center. August 2009


Andris at work with a Andriod Phone Survey Training in Chuuk, Micronesia. March 2013


Careful aiming: Very precise alignment is necessary to make a 90km WiFi link, 60% of which is over water, work properly. Here Inveneo CTO Andris Bjornson aims the Mfangano Island end of the link. May 2012


Andris walks PNCC (a local telecom) CTO Brenda (far right) and PNCC engineers Prince (middle right) and Jessie through a survey using Inveneo’s Android-based mobile data collection tool. October 2013


Ferry ride: Just getting to OHR’s EK center on Mfangano Island is an adventure…one requiring four plane rides, two hours in an SUV, a ferry trip, a ride in a small wooden boat, and 15 minutes on the back of a moped. Here, Andris Bjornson (right) and Edwin Maore (Setright) relax for a moment on the way to Mfangano Island. May 2012


Andris in Chuuk, Micronesia, managing an Andriod Phone Survey Training. March 2013

Connecting Schools in Micronesia Using Long-Distance WiFi

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on May 8, 2013 in the categories: News

Mevaly Tokyo, 10, and Lima Souneng, 16, at the UFO school on Fefan. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
Mevaly Tokyo, 10, and Lima Souneng, 16, at the UFO school on Fefan. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

The tropical islands of Chuuk, part of the Federated States of Micronesia, remain largely disconnected from the Internet. More than an hour flight from Guam and over 3,400 miles (5,400 km) from Hawaii, most of the islands in Chuuk are isolated in a way that is hard to envision. While the main island of Weno (pronounced Wena) has a population of almost 14,000 and basic Internet access, most of the surrounding islands have only 350 to 4,000 people per island, limited cell phone service and are accessible only by boat. Students on the islands may have seen people use computers and the Internet on television but most of them have never actually touched one or been online.

“A few [students], maybe 1%, have ever used computers, but most have not seen them,” one teacher on the island of Eot said.

“We often work in areas with limited internet access, but the environment in Chuuk poses very unique challenges to improving connectivity,” said Andris Bjornson, Inveneo’s CTO. “I’ve rarely seen anything like it.”

In late March Bjornson travelled with Bruce Baikie and Prairie Summer to Chuuk to conduct a site survey and local partner training as part of phase two of the Pacific Islands Schools, Connectivity, Education, and Solar (PISCES) Project. PISCES is a multi-stakeholder initiative to demonstrate how low cost wireless networking and solar-powered computing infrastructure can be scaled to serve educational professionals and students across the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and similar remote island settings. PISCES I, the first phase of the project, was implemented in 2012 and demonstrated that alternative, low-cost wireless networking and solar-powered computing infrastructure offer reliable and affordable computing and connectivity options for many remote and off-grid schools.

The goal of this second phase (PISCES II) is to identify, connect and equip at least three schools on these remote islands, strengthen the local ICT capacity and increase digital literacy among teachers.

K-8 School on Tsis, which has 87 kids, 5 teachers and no computers or internet access. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
K-8 School on Tsis, which has 87 kids, 5 teachers and no computers or internet access. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

For this project Inveneo’s team focused in on building the capacity of our local partner iSolutions and members of the local telecom to conduct site surveys, design wireless networks and install long-distance wireless links. Dr. Laura Hosman from Inveneo partner Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) was also present, following up on the 6 low-power, ruggedized computers that were deployed in PISCES I on the island of Udot and assessing lessons learned during the first phase. Dr. Hosman also gathered data to inform the design of trainings for teachers on computer skills and the deployment of additional computers in the new locations.

Chuuk Lagoon with pins showing survey locations. The pieced-together nature of Google’s area maps highlights the remote nature of the islands.
Chuuk Lagoon with pins showing survey locations. The pieced-together nature of Google’s area maps highlights the remote nature of the islands.

With the ambitious goal of conducting site survey training, six site surveys on six islands and installing one point-to-point link, the week was packed and the team was at the mercy of the weather. The heat, humidity, heavy rainfall (almost 200 inches per year) and unique challenges of making long-distance wireless links work over water make this equatorial island nation a difficult environment. Most of the smaller islands have no electricity and the vegetation is thick.

Operations began with Bjornson conducting a full day of training with three iSolutions staff and two members of FSM Telecom followed by guided site surveys. These guided surveys allowed trainees to test their new skills while gathering valuable data necessary to design the wireless links.

The training started with an in-depth session on the connection between tower equipment and a computer lab. Classroom time was balanced by hands-on training and exercises with the team conducting test surveys at various locations on Weno. In addition to learning many of the standard survey tools (including GPS and compass basics), the team also tested Inveneo’s new Smartphone-based Android application for conducting site surveys. The group of workshop participants from both iSolutions and Telcom FSM are the first worldwide to use this new tool, integrating survey-specific GPS, camera, and note-taking capabilities into one convenient handheld device. Previously an engineer needed to bring an individual compass, GPS unit, camera, paper and pencil to collect all of the data. These Google-donated Android phones use a combination of services including Formhub and odkcollect to make site surveys faster and more accurate.

Bjornson leads the classroom portion of our local partner training program. Photo: Prairie Summer / Inveneo
Bjornson leads the classroom portion of our local partner training program. Photo: Laura Hosman

Bjornson training local engineers to perform site surveys. Photos: Prairie Summer / Inveneo
Bjornson training local engineers to perform site surveys. Photos: Laura Hosman

With the training complete the team headed out to the surrounding islands to begin the site surveys. Heavy rain poured during the first three days, but not enough to stop the team from boating out to surveying the first three islands. When the rains let up the sun emerged giving the Inveneo team the opportunity to experience the full spectrum of weather challenges. From torrential rains to blazing sun, each day added to the understanding of what networks need to endure to function in Chuuk. Site visits to Romanum, Udot and Eot islands were completed via boat in one day despite constant rainfall. The islands of Fefan, Tsis and Tonoas were surveyed on the following day.

Left: Andris Bjornson and Bruce Balkie from Inveneo, Dr. Laura Hosman from IIT, and the trainees from iSolutions and FSM Telecom boarding the boat on Udot. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo Right: Andris and TR from local partner iSolutions conducting a site survey on Romanum. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
Left: Bjornson, Balkie, Dr. Laura Hosman from IIT and the trainees from iSolutions and FSM Telecom boarding the boat on Udot. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo Right: Bjornson and TR from local partner iSolutions conducting a site survey on Romanum. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

Left: Site sketch in Andris’ notebook of Romanum. Photo: Andris Bjornson / Inveneo Right: GR from iSolutions taking measurements at Romanum. Photo: Prairie Summer / Inveneo
Left: Site sketch in Bjornson’s notebook of Romanum. Photo: Andris Bjornson / Inveneo Right: GR from iSolutions taking measurements at Romanum. Photo: Prairie Summer / Inveneo

Bruce Baike surveys a potential computer lab site at Romanum School. Photo: Laura Hosman
Baikie surveys a potential computer lab site at Romanum School. Photo: Laura Hosman

Bjornson, Summer and Baike discover a few of the different ways that getting around in Micronesia can be a wet affair. Photos: Laura Hosman
Bjornson, Summer and Baikie discover a few of the different ways that getting around in Micronesia can be a wet affair. Photos: Laura Hosman

While each school and site has unique assets and challenges, all six of the locations surveyed are viable potential link locations. Many of the schools are conveniently located on the edge of the islands, clear of the dense vegetation that covers most of the islands, and even at the schools farther inland feasible locations were identified. This is exciting news for the PISCES team and the schools who will benefit from the link when it’s established.

“What we are doing now is we are trying to improve our students’ performance, and it would be good to search what other schools are doing…on the curriculum and find ways to improve our teaching,” Nancy Seymour, principal and 1st-2nd grade teacher on Eot said. Her school does not have enough books and resources and she believes having Internet access could make all the difference – providing her and the other teachers a source for new lesson plans and ideas and introducing the students to new and foreign things.

Nancy Seymour, principal and 1st-2nd grade teacher on Eot. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
Nancy Seymour, principal and 1st-2nd grade teacher on Eot. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

At every school the team visited there was a keen interest in connectivity and a universal belief that technology would make an impact on the quality of education. In addition to the academic potential, every single student and teacher indicated that they had family living either on other islands or abroad, and there was a great deal of excitement around the potential for communication with loved ones.

With the site surveys completed, the next focus was to establish a long distance wireless link from the main island of Weno to the school on Udot. This link, temporarily established during PISCES I, needed to be moved to a more permanent location and the team had received permission from FSM Telecom to place the link on the telecom’s existing tower.

This new position, higher on the island, allows for a stronger connection and will be the point that all six of the surveyed islands will link to when the project is completed. To install this long-distance link half of the team went to the tower on Weno and the other half to the site on Udot, coordinating via radios and cell phones. First the Udot team installed a small link on the side of the school. On Weno, the team put together a small dish, then mounted it on the tower and pointed it toward Udot. The positioning is critical and must be painstakingly adjusted to the most accurate position possible. Access to the tower was provided by FSM Telecom, which has a strong relationship with iSolutions. Inveneo has found through past experience that strong collaboration with the local telecommunications provider can be a powerful tool in creating sustainable projects.

Mangoki Shirai assembles dish for the long-distance link from Weno to Udot, then climbs the FSM Telecom tower on Weno to install the link. Photos: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
Mangoki Shirai assembles dish for the long-distance link from Weno to Udot, then climbs the FSM Telecom tower on Weno to install the link. Photos: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

View of Udot from the base of the tower on Weno. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
View of Udot from the base of the tower on Weno. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

Left: Team putting together the dish on Udot for the link to Weno. Photo: Laura Hosman/IIT Right: Installing the link on top of the school on Udot. Photo: Laura Hosman/IIT
Left: Team putting together the dish on Udot for the link to Weno. Photo: Laura Hosman/IIT Right: Installing the link on top of the school on Udot. Photo: Laura Hosman/IIT

The team on Udot then adjusted the link on their end and the connection was established! Both the FSM Telecom and iSolutions teams did an incredible job.

With the training completed and the first link established, and data gathered for five additional sites to be linked as soon as the funding is secured, PISCES II has the potential to provide unprecedented levels of connectivity and access to schools and communities throughout Chuuk. The project has also gained support and interest from the FSM Department of Education.

In addition to improving the educational resources and access to information, every single student, teacher and administrator the team met on this trip said they have family on other islands or in other countries. With this long-distance wireless network in place they will all have new ways to communicate with their loved ones in other places, and that may be the best motivation to learn of all.

If additional support for this project can be secured, the Inveneo team plans to return and install links to the remaining five sites in the summer of 2013.

Left:  View of the tower on Weno from the boat. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo Right: View of the boat on Tsis. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo
Left: View of the tower on Weno from the boat. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo Right: View of the boat on Tsis. Photo: Prairie Summer/Inveneo

The PISCES Project has received funding support from Google, the Pacific Telecommunications Council, and the Internet Society. PISCES Project partners include: Inveneo, the University of Guam, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL) Organization, Green WiFi, iSolutions, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, the University of California, Berkeley’s TIER research group, FSM Department of Education, FSM DTC&I.

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

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 Unique Challenges of Making Technology Work in Developing Countries

  1. Posted by Inveneo on January 26, 2012 in the categories: Economic Development, News, Projects

Making technology work in the rural and developing world is a process full of unique challenges. I am Andris Bjornson, Inveneo’s Chief Technology Officer and practicing project engineer. As an Inveneo engineer, I have to be prepared for it all. Recently in Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Preserve, I had what I’d call in rock climbing terms an “epic” day traveling to bring the Cisco Community Knowledge Center (CKC) in Sekenani, Kenya (photos) online with high speed terrestrial broadband Internet.

This is not by far the most difficult deployment (that would be 3 weeks in Nepal dealing with monsoon rains and leeches) nor the most chaotic (probably our Haiti Earthquake disaster response) However, the condensed timeline, wild game, and bad weather combined to make this a good story.

I had arrived in Nairobi after finishing a week-long wireless connectivity assessment in the UNHCR Dadaab refugee camp and I was asked to tack on an additional day of work for this special project, to make the final adjustments to bring the connection live. This was the first time in Kenya that we would be connecting one of the CKC’s with broadband Internet by partnering with a local carrier at their tower and then using long distance wireless (WiFi) to connect to the CKC facility 20 kilometers away. It was supposed to be a quick in-and-out flight into the Masai Mara Game Preserve, as the CKC is just inside one of the Park’s eastern gates.

We usually send one of our Inveneo Certified IT Partners (ICIPs) to complete a technical installation like this. All of the equipment had already been put in place, but the connection had to be tested and completed now that the CKC had signed the service contract. First-time installations are always tricky.

Here’s how it actually went:

6:00am – Wake up in my hotel in Nairobi, scarf down a quick breakfast and call Bernard, a friendly taxi driver I had met earlier for a ride to Nairobi Wilson airport. This small airport is Nairobi’s jumping off point for all domestic, tiny aircraft that would generally worry my mother.

8:15am – Arrive at Wilson after navigating Nairobi’s legendary traffic and check in at the last possible minute.

9:15am – Take off in a Twin Otter: the favorite 20 seat, twin-prop workhorse of rural airlines from Nepal to Borneo.

10:30am – Land at the dirt airstrip at Keekorok in Masai Mara. Connect with Tony, the friendly Land Cruiser driver and guide whom I’ve hired to take me where I need to go. The change from UN convoys with armed escorts in Dadaab to convoys of open top matatus (vans) full of tourists seeking sightings of the “big five” (elephant, lion, leopard, black rhino, and water buffalo) is jarring.

10:50am – While bouncing down the dirt track to my destination, I see a herd of elephants! (Never seen them in the wild before.) Check in with the cellular engineers I’m scheduled to meet. Our wireless equipment, which serves the CKC with Internet, is co-located at their Talek Market cellular tower, and I’m supposed to meet them at the project site.

I learn that, though I’d made them promise to meet me at their tower by noon when I spoke to them last night, noon had become 1pm by the time I talked to them from Nairobi in the morning, and now it’s going to be 2pm due to car trouble. This is not uncommon, though given that my return flight leaves the airstrip at 4:15pm and the airstrip is at least 30 minutes from the tower, it is less than ideal. I need to connect with an international flight the same day in Nairobi, and this is the last flight out of Masai Mara for the day. I hope furiously that an hour and a half onsite will be enough.

11:10am – Arrive at the Sekanani CKC,the site I’ve come to connect. I meet with Kerry and Musa, the CKC managers, and discuss the problems. Initial diagnosis shows that what we’d thought was the cause of their Internet troubles is actually several completely unrelated problems. The Inveneo R3 server’s BIOS (the most basic “brains” of a computer) has reset itself and lost its settings, which can sometimes happen due to unusual power conditions. I fix this and show Kerry and Musa how to fix it if it happens again.

One of the server’s two mirrored hard drives has also failed (not uncommon in hot, humid and dusty environments. Sekanani is all three). Fortunately, our Inveneo R3 server has RAID: a technology that allows the server to keep running even with one failed drive.

12:30pm – Learn from Tony the driver that the normal road from Sekanani to Talek Market (the cell tower location) is deep under water from recent heavy rains. This turns a 15-minute drive into a 40-minute one. I pass this information on to the cellular engineers, who are still en route.

1:00pm – Quick lunch, then head toward the cell tower with Tony.

1:50pm – Herds of Antelope cross the road in front of us as we drive.

2:10pm – We arrive at the Talek Market tower, and find that the cellular engineers have just arrived! I eye our equipment at the very top of the 40m tower (a Ubiquiti NanoBridgeM5-25) and think how lucky our engineer, Jen, was to have installed it during the great migration season. She has pictures of massive herds of animals passing under her.

2:15pm – I discover that, three weeks earlier, the cellular provider moved our equipment and wiring to a completely new cabinet without letting us know. The way the move was done seems to have caused a power spike that wiped our long- distance WiFi radio’s settings. It’s a problem we knew about, but one we discovered after the equipment installation had been performed three months prior.

3:15pm – I reconfigure the radio from scratch, grateful I don’t need to climb the tower, and bring the link between the tower and the CKC back up and functioning again! Check in with the cellular providers’ NOC (network operations center) to verify connectivity. They confirm the test passes! This is good, because it has started raining and I’m running out of time. Upgrade firmware: the link to the CKC goes down! I’m out of time, it’s continuing to rain, and given the results of the NOC’s test, I theorize that I can fix the remaining issue remotely from Nairobi.

3:30pm – Dash for the airstrip

3:35pm – See some zebra hanging out by the side of the road. They don’t seem to mind the rain.

3:40pm – I receive a call from the NOC that their test has, in fact, failed. This problem will make it impossible to access the equipment remotely. Wish they would have told me this before I left the site, but I’m impressed with their follow-through. Better to find out now than after leaving the country.

3:45pm – We make the judgment call to push my return flight to Nairobi and my onward flight to San Francisco back by a day to finish the work. Spend 15 minutes on hold with the travel agent’s emergency line in an effort to get them to change the international flight. The international call burns through my remaining cellular credit and I never do reach them. Tony is also out of phone credits so I can’t even call Air Kenya to cancel my domestic flight.

4:05pm – Continue to the airstrip to tell the Air Kenya pilot that I can’t take his flight back to Nairobi. Buy cellular credit from a driver at the airstrip, call Air Kenya, and learn that the 4:15pm flight tomorrow is full. The best they can do is 10:15am tomorrow. Hope that buys me enough time to finish the work. Head back to the CKC to see what I can do from there because it’s much closer than the tower.

4:25pm – Try again to change my international reservation. I find the number for Swiss International Airlines. I ask the driver to stop the car so that the phone agent can understand me. Just as she is explaining that she can’t change the reservation because it was a Swiss Air flight booked as a Lufthansa codeshare, a giraffe casually wanders up and stops about eight feet from the car. I swear he’s looking right at me saying: “Clearly you should have called Lufthansa.”

4:35pm – We reach the CKC. I tweak some WiFi link settings. This fixes part of the remaining problem but not all of it. Then I have the “a-ha” moment realizing what happened during the firmware upgrade at the tower and that I need to go back.

5:15pm – Head back to the cellular tower (again, the long way because the fast road is washed out). It’s raining really hard now.

5:55pm – Exit the Masai Mara Park gates (the tower is just outside the park) and beg the ranger to let us back in in 20 minutes (15 minutes after closing time). Hope that I can fix the problem in 20 minutes. Pull on my raincoat, and grab my laptop.

6:05pm – Find myself hunched over my laptop, plugged into equipment inside a cellular equipment cabinet with two guards and a driver holding golf umbrellas over me to avoid drenching at least a hundred thousand dollars worth of cellular equipment and bringing down cellular service in the immediate area (our WiFi gear is housed in the same cabinet). Laugh at the absurdity of the situation.

6:10pm – Fix the problem while keeping surprisingly dry. I’m annoyed at myself that it was partly a stupid mistake on my part and partly a known bug I should have remembered, that causes a critical checkbox to check itself when firmware is upgraded to this particular version. Make a mental note to tell our teams in Haiti about this bug.

6:15pm – Call Kerry at the CKC. Still under the golf umbrellas in the deluge (though thankfully we’ve closed the cellular cabinet), talk him through some technical troubleshooting steps to verify that everything is working from his end. Hooray!

6:16pm – We all have to walk through ankle-deep water to get back to the car. The land around the tower has turned into a lake. Feet are soaked and muddy all around. Pass the tower guards some Kenyan Shillings for going way above and beyond the call of duty and helping me (and much more importantly, the equipment) keep out of the rain.

6:20pm – Start the trip back to the CKC, grateful that the Masai Mara ranger honors his promise to let us through the gate slightly after hours.

6:45pm – Spot some ostriches: cool!

6:50pm – Glad to reach my colleague who is passing through Nairobi for some meetings. He has good Skype access and makes the international call to change my flight. Change fees are totally reasonable! Phew.

7:00pm – Glad that Tony is a flexible guy, arrive at the CKC. This is way more driving than he bargained for. Do some general IT housekeeping, verify that the link is performing well.

7:20pm – It’s well after dark now. Needing to use the restroom, I stumble off with my flashlight to find the outhouse. Kerry warns me to watch out for hyenas. He is not joking.

7:30pm – Shake hands with Kerry and Musa, glad that everyone’s hard work paid off and that the CKC now has a 2Mbps symmetric Internet connection. This might not sound like much in San Francisco… but this is by far the fastest, most affordable Internet available out here in the bush.

8:00pm – Return to the safari camp where I had lunch and explain that, yes, I was supposed to have left already but please do they have room for me. Fortunately, they do.

8:15pm – Grateful to change into some dry clothes. Finally unwrap the soaked ace bandage from my swollen ankle (I sprained it a week before jumping on a trampoline with my wife). Relaxing at this amazing spot is a fantastic reward for an exhausting day of work. It all feels worthwhile because the CKC has Internet now and can greatly expand their (ICT) services to the community.

Connecting Technical and Vocational Educational Training (TVET) Centers, Palestinian West Bank

  1. Posted by Inveneo on May 31, 2011 in the categories: Education, News

CraigConnects and Inveneo teamed up to bring true broadband network connectivity to schools across the Palestinian West Bank. The Palestinian educational system has two tracks for grades 11 and 12: academic and vocational. The vocational, under the Ministry of Higher Education, manages Technical, Vocational, Educational and Training secondary schools (TVETs) in every region of the Palestinian territory. Inveneo selected the 12 TVETs located in the West Bank and surveyed the locations’ existing connectivity and physical site limitations, as well as each school’s individual needs. The survey revealed that the physical size of the facilities, curricula and number of students and faculty varies significantly from site to site, but all schools share a strong need for inter-campus collaboration and reliable broadband Internet access. In fact, virtually all the schools’ existing Internet connections were almost useless most of the time. All locations needed improved connectivity and the ability to communicate better with other similar schools.

Inveneo Brings Up 82km Wireless Link to Haiti’s Central Massif – A New Distance Record!

  1. Posted by Inveneo on March 23, 2011 in the categories: Economic Development, News, Projects

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.

Vital Communications for Health Relief Efforts

  1. Posted by Inveneo on February 9, 2010 in the categories: Healthcare, News, Projects, Relief

As we continue to expand and strengthen long-distance WiFi networks for NetHope members in and around Port-au-Prince, it’s a time of transition for Inveneo staff in Haiti.

Brian Shih and Oliver Jiang have replaced Mark Summer and Andris Bjornson, bringing new skills and energy to our deployment activities, which now include extending high-speed Internet access to select non-NetHope organizations, as opportunities arise. Relief agencies can use Inveneo’s Emergency ICT Help Request to be considered.

A Health Organization in Need

PROFAMIL, a Haitian reproductive health organization, provides mobile and clinic-based services to women and families in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, and Port Prix, Haiti. PROFAMIL is a national member of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

The earthquake destroyed its clinic buildings in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, crippling its ability to provide its services to local Haitian communities – mobile health clinics for victims of the earthquake now living in tent cities. They needed Internet access to direct resupply and response efforts with national affiliate clinics in PROFAMILIA Dominican Republic and IPPF headquarters in New York City.

We first learned of their need via Inveneo’s Emergency ICT Help Request, and quickly mobilized to help. We brought high-speed Internet access to their new, post-quake location using our proven 7-step WiFi deployment process.

Immediate, Life-Saving Impact

Setting up PROFAMIL link

PROFAMIL couldn’t wait to use the new bandwidth. Before we had even finished, their doctors were making Skype phone calls to the USA with their iPhones. In the next few days, they completed long, reliable, high-quality Skype video calls on laptop computers.

PROFAMIL staff exchanged files, shared screens, and re-commenced their work providing pre- and post-natal care, counseling and family healthcare to PROFAMIL clients with urgent clinical needs. Amid the physical destruction viewable through the grainy laptop cameras, the voices and faces of the Haitian team were a source of strength to IPPF staff worldwide.

The reliable, stable and fast Internet connection afforded IPPF headquarters in NYC new avenues to start to rebuild infrastructure in a measured, sustainable fashion, including re-establishing supply chains for solar power, tents and medicines. This effort may have taken weeks or months without the Inveneo long-distance WiFi network.

PROFAMIL and its partners expressed their immense gratitude to Inveneo. To quote one person:

“You were careful not to over-promise, reflecting the reality of Haiti currently; your engineering expertise was on-point and thorough through installation and support; and the Internet service is rock-solid, especially notable in the fluid context of Port au Prince. Keep up your great work, you are supporting the work of global health NGOs doing critical, life-saving work in Haiti.”


Expanding Our Impact

As we complete the initial NetHope network, we’d appreciate your support to help us bring life-saving communications to more organizations in Haiti. We hope you’ll join NetHope, the EKTA Foundation, Aruba Networks, the Orr Foundation, Steve Okay and Andrea Longo, and many of your friends and colleagues in supporting Inveneo’s Haiti response.

We are appealing for donations to cover the basic costs associated with this expansion of our Haiti relief efforts, including equipment, logistics and on the ground expenses. 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, and donate before February 28th, your donation may be tax deductible for the 2009 tax year.

All donations through February 28, 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:


Donate via Paypal

You can make a donation through this Paypal link:

Donate via Check or Money Order

Or send a check to Inveneo:

    972 Mission Street
    Fifth Floor
    San Francisco, CA 94103 USA

How to Deploy Long-Distance WiFi in Haiti

  1. Posted by Inveneo on February 2, 2010 in the categories: News, Projects, Relief

As you can see from the network diagram above, Inveneo’s long-distance WiFi links connecting NetHope member organizations is starting to be far-reaching. Inveneo engineers Mark Summer and Andris Bjornson have been able to bring high-speed Internet access – critical communication capacity – to eleven relief agency locations with minimal equipment and installation time

Our long-distance WiFi network has made huge improvements in connectivity for NetHope member organizations. Some had no connectivity before. Others had limited connectivity, like a 160 kbit connection that jumped to 1.6 Mbit. That’s like going from 3 dialup connections to a cable or DSL connection.

These leaps in access have immediate impact when 20-100 people are sharing bandwidth at each location. International staff are able to make high-quality Skype video calls when before even voice calls were next to impossible, cutting resupply and rebuilding times by weeks or months.

We want to do more than just build out physical infrastructure; we also want to build the human capacity of local Haitian companies. Eventually, we hope they can deploy these technologies themselves, expanding the benefits of ICT beyond Inveneo’s direct reach.

While we’re fundraising for long-term capacity development, we’re going to start the process of knowledge dissemination with this primer on deploying long-distance WiFI links in Haiti

How to deploy long-distance WiFi links in Haiti

Inveneo has created a methodology for deploying long-distance wireless networks from our many years of work in Africa. So while Port-au-Prince presents it own set of logistical and communication challenges, we were able to install and manage a high-functioning network relatively quickly using these basic steps:

Step 1: WiFi Network Design

WiFi, like most radio technologies, works on the principle of line-of-sight – you have to see it to beam to it. So the very first step in building a long-distance wireless network is to make sure your nodes are visible to each other. We usually achieve this by conducting a site visit – we or an Inveneo Certified ICT Partner physically visits each site that will host a node and captures its GPS coordinates.

In Port-au-Prince, where transportation is difficult, we try to get as much information in advance as possible, starting with GPS locations. This isn’t always easy. Many agencies don’t have GPS devices, and those that do don’t always use them correctly.

We’ve been given coordinates that are miles off the actual location, a real issue when street signs are missing, landmarks are destroyed and the city has a dusk curfew. This is where OpenStreetMap is a godsend – volunteers are mapping locations with great accuracy and posting them online, which we can use in our planning (read more here).

Once we have the locations, we use Radio Mobile and Google Earth to design the network. Both use terrain data from the Space Shuttle to model the surface of the earth. With these tools, we find the correct angles, both azimuth (side to side) and elevation (up and down) that each antenna will need to achieve the highest gain (signal strength) between nodes.

Step 2: Location Capacity Survey

Now that we know where to place each node location, we try to make sure the site can support the required equipment: we confirm the site is physically secure, the building structurally sound, that there is a physical location for the equipment and constant, clean electrical power, that we can get roof access and that we can work with the organization’s IT staff as needed.

These might seem frivolous questions unless you’ve arrived at an African school after a several hour overland drive to find the headmaster expecting you to install computers in an empty room that doesn’t have desks, doors or window panes. In Haiti, we added the roof access question after Andris found himself climbing a rickety, bent ladder, with the real threat of a fall that might have sent him to already overburdened local medical facilities.

Step 3: WiFi Hub Antenna Pointing

From the design plan made up of the node locations, we first set up an antenna from our live network pointing in the direction of the new node.

In Haiti, a Garmin GPSMAP 76CSx is our location notepad – giving a good indication of direction, automatically compensating for magnetic declination (9.5 degrees in Haiti), and producing a compass bearing for use in the actual azimuth aiming of the dish. For elevation, usually less than 8 degrees or so, we use a bubble level to get the dish positioned properly and then (very technically) “bump” the dish to ensure accuracy.

Again, this dish is beaming WiFi into the wild at this point, without a receiving antenna set up (yet). So the next step is to install an antenna at the other end of the link, at the site that needs connectivity.

Step 4: Installation Trip Preparation

As any good engineer will tell you, detailed preparation makes all the difference in a deployment. So the night before we visit a hub location to install a node we make a complete packing list for each day’s loadout.. This includes the number of antennas, radios, switches, VOIP ATAs, etc.

Each piece of gear goes in a large Ziplock with all the other parts it takes to make it work – switches get packed with their power adapters, ATAs, phones, and patch cables go together and WiFi radio antennas get packed with their Power Over Ethernet (PoE) injectors along with the antenna mount bracket.

All this gear travels in extremely durable Pelican cases. We always take one large Pelican case that serves as a toolkit, large first aid kit, and consumable supply depot for equipment like electrical tape, duct tape, cable ties, and RJ45 connectors.

Step 5: Node Antenna Setup

Once on site, antenna setup goes fastest with at least two people – one as antenna jockey on the roof, the other as networking guru patching into the existing network or making one on the fly. In Haiti, it has tended to be Andris on the roof and Mark in the server room.

After Andris has climbed onto the roof, he hoists up the antenna equipment, and quickly reels off CAT5e cable for Mark. Running the cable from the roof to the server room (or WiFi hotspot location) is done first because it is one of the most time-consuming aspects of the implementation.

Now Andris sets up his antenna mount – we’re using speaker stands weighted with rubble and sandbags, and attaches a Ubiquiti Rocket M5 antenna and Rocket Dish for long links or a BulletM5 antenna and 25dBi grid dish for short-to-medium links.

Both of these antennas are point-to-point, transmitting 802.11n in the 5 GHz band, which is less cluttered than the 2.4 GHz band, regularly full of standard 802.11b/g WiFi traffic. And when we are patient with the aiming tools (GPS, compass, and level), the antennas can be aligned before we even need to use the radio software to align them. When finished, we usually see a -65 dBm signal level with each link.

Step 6: Disseminating Internet Access

While Andris is on the roof, Mark runs the CAT5e cable into the building and attaches it to the PoE injectors. PoE injectors send power over the 4 unused wires in the ethernet cables, so we can energize the Ubiquiti antennas without running a second cable. He then connects to the existing network through a Cisco switch.

When there isn’t an existing network, we use either the Ubiquiti Nano2 or the Ubiquiti Pico2 as a local access point. This is often the case in Port-au-Prince, where the existing infrastructure is often unusable, usually because the building is damaged or unsafe. Then a Nano2 provides great directional wireless access, say for an outdoor office and a Pico2 gives good indoor omni-directional coverage.

Step 7: Network Management

Putting up the network infrastructure might be hard, but managing the network once it is up is equally challenging. Each computer at every location requires its own unique IP address, and every computer wants to communicate with remote servers outside of Haiti at the same time. Yet there is only so much bandwidth at any one node and at the uplink point.

With eleven nodes and counting, we’re very lucky that the OpenNMS community, developers of the first enterprise grade network management platform, have taken on Inveneo’s network in Haiti to help us manage user needs. OpenNMS Group has even given us a free commercial support account. Using OpenNMS, we’ve been able to monitor network usage and then use other tools for traffic shaping, making sure that each user, at each node, has equal amount of bandwidth for his or her communication needs.

Learning More About Long Distance WiFi

If you’ve read this far, you will probably be interested in our long-distance WiFI solutions and how we and our Certified ICT Partners can bring Internet access to rural and underserved communities in the developing world.

You can learn more by following us in real-time via RSS, Twitter, or Facebook. And if you’re interested in working with us, please complete our client inquiry form.

Creating WiFi Links to Save Lives in Haiti

  1. Posted by Inveneo on January 22, 2010 in the categories: News, Relief

Today’s Status

This morning, Inveneo’s team on the ground in Haiti, CIO Mark Summer and Engineer Andris Bjornson, started deploying the first of 15 long-distance WiFi Internet links for NetHope partner organizations across Port au Prince.

Long-distance WiFi links to relief

They started by connecting an Inveneo R4 Hub Server to the VSAT satellite Internet downlink from ITC Global, and installing a local access point for the CHF International headquarters.

Then they created two long-distance WiFi links from the headquarters of CHF International, to two different offices of Save the Children in Port au Prince. The first link was around 2.5 kilometers long. Later this afternoon they established a third link to the offices of Catholic Relief Services.

This is the start of the network we plan to establish within the next two weeks. The final result will be a redundant, high-speed Internet connection shared via long-distance WiFi antennas with 15-20 NetHope member agencies. This new connectivity will open the flow of information within and among agencies and speed the delivery of critical relief services.

The Need is Great

This communication network cannot come fast enough for the people of Haiti. Here is Mark Summer’s description of Port au Prince he’s seen while driving between WiFi installations:

Driving around you see many collapsed or significantly damaged buildings, often right next to completely intact ones. Here in the hills the damage is significantly less then down in the center of PaP where in it seems that in many areas more then 50% of the buildings are gone or beyond repair.

We’ve seen buildings that have had two or three stories and now no higher then 5 feet of the ground – it seems as if walls just turned into sand…

Many Haitians now live in parks, parking lots or simply in the street (often a whole road is closed because people now live it in) under tarps or in tents. You see people bathing on the side of the road, cooking in the street or parking lots etc.

Currently the weather is very pleasant warm (in the 80s) but not too humid in the day and a nice cooling off in the evenings but not too cold. Once it starts to rain here things will be decidedly more unpleasant for the people living in the parks, streets and back yards.

Expanding Our Impact

We’ve already received requests for assistance from other organizations in Haiti (ICT Request Form). As we gain a better understanding of local conditions and local partner resources, we hope to expand our impact and establish lasting ICT capacity in Haiti. We still have the long-term goal to expand our innovative technology model into the country.

In these efforts, we’d love for you to stay involved. You can follow us in real-time via RSSTwitterFacebook, or Youtube.

How you can help

NetHope has agreed to provide funds to cover the cost of equipment and the EKTA Foundation has generously supported the initial deployment. We are making an appeal for donations to cover the quickly escalating costs associated with our Haiti relief efforts.

Please donate 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:

Donate via Paypal

You can make a donation through this Paypal link:

Donate via Check or Money Order

Or send a check to Inveneo:

      972 Mission Street, Fifth Floor
      San Francisco, CA 94103 USA