Even if wireless cities in the developed world are a questionable prospect, wireless certainly has a role to play in other contexts, be they localized networks such as the wireless systems in place in many universities or in parts of the developing world. One system, mesh networking, in which information passes in a distributed fashion from node to node is really too slow for application in places with broadband available, but is a possible solution for areas in developing countries.
Given how much Tibet has been in the news lately, I thought it appropriate to cite the example of the Dharamsala Wireless Mesh network which was covered by Xeni Jardin in Wired a couple of years ago. In Dharamsala, a community of Tibetian exiles have set up a mesh network to provide Internet connectivity and VoIP services.
A solar panel atop a shrine provides power for the mesh network.
[image from the Tibet Technology Center http://tibtec.org/]
Many researchers in networking technology spend their time trying to dream up future uses of the Internet and yet, many the ideas already out there are just so amazing that the make anything we think of seem tame. So for another semi-regular project, I’d like to institute a series titled "Developing Technologies" in which I will look at the rich ways that technology is being harnessed in developing countries.*
Take for example, this story from the BBC (or this one from Australia’s the Age). In rural areas of developing countries such as India, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Rwanda, and Cambodia, Internet access is hard to come by. In response, United Villages Corporation has created a store-and-forward system based on kiosks, Wi-Fi units, and buses. Kiosks in villages allow workers to regularly check their e-mail, request information, or place on-line orders for a small fee. Busses that regularly come through the villages are outfitted with Wi-Fi units . When the bus stops, the kiosk and Wi-Fi unit connect. Outbound information is uploaded and inbound information is downloaded to the kiosks. Over 100,000 people now access the Internet in this time delayed fashion. It may not be the experience we are used to, but it allows villagers to have access to a world they otherwise would not be linked to.
*Yes, I know, I need to get back to some of the other semi-regular features I’ve initiated this year. I will, I will. Soon.