Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wireless Africa Technical Workshop (Nov 2008)

The workshop is the 3nd planned workshop by the network project, Wireless Africa. This event was a specifically capacity building workshop to help develop business cases for chosen country entrepreneurs and improve practical hands-on wireless network applications for technicians in each Africa project. The intent is that this group learning would lead to collaboration and lessons learned among country members as they attempt to improve their current rural telecommunications infrastructure practices and thus develop more sustainable(and possibly expandable) business models within their community networks.


Wireless Africa can offer leadership in linking the research of all ten cases of isolated rural community wireless networks. At the workshop, participants were asked to understand the need for their work to engage in policy implications on telecommunications, to improve their knowledge on other value-added applications for wireless networks, and to advance business practices through use of demand side studies and accounting templates. The process in which these networks change the way they operate need to be well documented and brought together so that mistakes are not replicated and instead solved as a collaborative group of like-minded social entrepreneurs or technicians as is the hope of Wireless Africa.

For policy and practice, Alison Gillwald (IDRC project: #103114) from Research ICT Africa! (RIA!) was asked to present their recent 2007 Household Survey results as well as ensure the RIA! researchers contact Wireless Africa researchers to improve policy dialogue. Wireless Africa also asked African network for Localization (Anloc) research network leader, Dwayne Bailey (IDRC Project # 104475), to link localization researchers to Wireless Africa researchers to ensure African local languages are also utilized within the projects. Steve Song from Shuttleworth Foundation and Toni Eliasz & Rudi von Staden from Ungana Afrika presented their business cases of ongoing projects called the Village Telco and feasibility business study in Eastern Cape respectively. These informative presentations were an indication of the need to share and collaborate between other ICT research networks as well as ongoing projects within the continent.

Technical side: Alberto, Louise, and Sebastian have been long-standing wireless networking trainers with ICT4D – IDRC worldwide. They once again helped our technical strand to improve their knowledge of open-source applications and devices which can be used to improve the teams’ community wireless networks in terms of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), billing tools, bandwidth management and updated mesh-setups. Their technical manuals and open source applications are well-documented (some on website) and provided to each participant on DVD.

Business side: All 10 African teams walked away with a draft business case template as well as their first attempt to “sell” their team’s idea under an “elevator speech” – short concise three minute presentations about their community wireless network. During the workshop, teams received constructive criticism on their ideas of micro-services and whether their plans would reach any profit or worthwhile investment from future interested parties. Katherine and Xolani from Ninjani helped to build the survey methodology called card sorting to help gather data on their client’s needs for wireless communications and possible micro-services to be offered by the African team. Teams are to email their draft business plan to Uys by December 15, 2008. After feedback, teams will send their final copy by January 15, 2009. All in all, the workshop was a good mix of theory and hands on participation.

Finally, the beginning formation of a Wireless Africa Alliance started to take shape during the workshop. Kafui (Ghana), Houda and Jamal (Morocco), Muroro (Zimbabwe) and Ochuko (Nigeria) volunteered to be the first temporary steering committee to further develop the role and mandate of an alliance in improving telecommunications infrastructure policy, practice and learning dissemination. The Wireless Africa organizing team (or consortium) agreed to support the WAA’s work.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

TakeBacktheTech - 16 days of activism

I recently met Jac and her APC crew who thought of this innovative way to explore violence against women through ICTs.

At the recent Feminist Tech Exchange in Cape Town, it is actually amazing to learn of how women are suppressed from their freedom of expression around the world. Websites are continuously torn down or hacked if it does not suit a certain government's views. Children are tricked to participate in graphic, explicit websites or forums. The right to protect your information and privacy could be invaded as each day passes.

Being based here in South Africa, where words of violence and abuse directed at women and children (even from the incoming president) are mind-boggling, it is imperative that one explores the new and innovative ways to beat the system. Please follow takebackthetech during the next 15 days of activism if you believe in a better world.

What would our world be like if all women participated in the knowledge economy?

FTX blog: 11/12/2008

As we reach our last track day here at FTX, I do not see it as the end to learning and practice.

Firstly at AWID, we hope to keep our FTX friends connected with SMS (through newly learned tools) to keep in touch with news and actions happening as we disperse among the 2000+ delegates and go to our separate hotel accomodations. I also hear rumours of a wireless network being set up at the conference as a practical demonstration and possible testing of the new prototype of Freedom Fone.

Secondly, Take back the Tech will be a great way to practice new skills. Done.

Beyond FTX and AWID, I see feminists being better heard through the new tools. But how do we document the possible successes and hardships that we will most definitely run into now that our FTX tech support network is not at the tips of our fingers like now? How will feminist work be shaped because of the use of SMS to advocate for improved access to ICTs for women? What will be the industry reaction be to the changing environment as women gain better skills in wireless networking?

1. Let us not stop questioning.

2. Let us document, video, audio-record, photograph, write, SMS.

3. Let us talking about it one-on-one.

4. Let us get people to see the light.

5.Let us share with each other how our world would look like if women were able to reach their full potential.



F4W – Feminists for Wireless!

Wireless (wi-fi) community networking has become a recent passion of mine particularly here in Africa. The passion lies in reaching the last mile: seeing rural communities be connected to internet using innovative practices through antennae, wireless routers and motivated people. This is even after overcoming harsh conditions of poor reliability to electricity, dust, lightning, illiteracy, hilly terrain and lack of resources. Wireless does not leave the rural out and in fact, has helped to develop skill and astonishing new ideas of reversing the digital divide trend.

But lets not be too wishful. My observations in Africa is that wireless networking is still dominated by male electrical engineers. But because wireless networking is still such a new concept, the trend can still be reversed. I believe that it has begun here at FTX! My heart filled with hope and optimism as I watched my track participants attempt to dispel usually daunting ideas of hardware and go configure a wireless router and learn more about connecting wi-fi. It is not hard at all! We just need to learn the glossary of the scary tech words and do it. So feminists (male and female), if we want wireless networking to be useful to our underserved rural communities and help women gain access to the knowledge economy, make time to learn these wireless hardware / software skills today.

Shout out to Lillian and Fatima leading us to see Wireless through Women!


Wireless Africa
Wireless Networking in the Developing World
Community Wireless Resource Centre (Makerere University)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hands dirty @ Wireless & Mobile

Blogging at FTX (11/11/2008):

Its a windy chilly day in Cape Town, but the weather has definitely not slowed down the energy of the participants at FTX. From the summary of the different track groups, it appears most facilitators have started with concept and technology introductions. Today, the groups are delving deeper into practice and usage of the technologies. In the wireless – mobile track, the participants are getting their hands dirty with testing FrontlineSMS for mass SMS campaigns. As with trying to add Fring to our mobiles yesterday, only one successful test group was able to get the messages out to the South African phone numbers using the software and GSM modem. Lets not despair; we still have time to work out the glitches with our other test groups. As our facilitator, Brenda stated, its the best way to learn about technology!