Al Hammond

More Rural Wi-Fi Activity

Wi-Fi antenna installation on avacado tree, UgandaThe AirJaldi Summit mentioned here last week brought together a lot of people working with low-cost wireless connectivity in Asia. Discussions on the list serve created to follow up on the Summit indicate activity in parts of Latin America as well. Today the New York Times reports on similar networks in Africa in an article entitled “Wireless Technology to Bind an African Village“. Nonprofit Inveneo is engineering and deploying solar-powered WiFi networks for NGOs in 18 projects scattered through Uganda and a number of other countries in the region.

These projects show technical feasibility and the social impact of rural connectivity. They also show that rural connectivity can be achieved at very low cost. But they beg the question of scale. And that raises the question?if it’s so low cost to provide rural coverage, and rural communities are so eager for service, why don?t mobile phone companies use WiFi and VOIP to extend their networks inexpensively into rural areas? In Africa, many mobile companies are already using satellite connections as back-haul for their cellular base stations?so it is not much of a stretch to use them to connect up rural WiFi networks, in areas that are too sparsely populated or too remote to justify putting in high cost cellular equipment.

Regulators have pushed for more universal service for years. Now NGOs are showing how to use new technology to accomplish that goal. Isn?t it time for the carriers to step up?