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amateur radio operatorRadio communications in remote regions has been the playground of radio amateurs for too long. Even today those NGOs and missionaries who cannot afford satellite-phones still use 19th century HF technologies with packet modems at crawling speeds. We intend to push the whole field into a new era by taking advantage of new technologies brought on by cellular-phones and wireless office networks. The affordability created by sufficient production volumes of Wi-Fi equipment and the high-frequency they use make an exiting combination allowing cheap multi-node high-bandwidth networks to be setup in remote regions with no need for existing infrastucture.

On the issue of cost, compromises and tradeoffs are often taken for granted for lack of imagination. Communications equipment proposed by salesman to be used here is often extremely expensive military-grade and totally financially out-of-reach to NGOs. Instead, with little courage and imaginations, cheap large-volume consumer-grade off-the-shelf computers and networking equipment can be made to work here just as well.

Line-of-sight rangeAnother misjudgement concerns line-of-sight communications equipment which is often considered too short-range for remote regions and the lack of coverage makes it undesirable for many applications. But more often than not most communications equipment in remote regions is tied to one location by power-generation, antenna structure and weight reasons. A static line-of-sight radio link is more reliable between two known points than semi- or omni-directional systems. With highly directional parabolic antennas anything less than a 50km link-span is a breeze while link-spans of up to 110km have been tested with 24bBi antennas at both ends. Speeds for these links would still be in the megabytes-per-second range allowing for example for simultaneous voice-calls to be places over TCP/IP. And since equipment comes in bulk prices it is not unfeasible to think of making a chain of unmanned repeaters spanning hundreds of kilometres from mountain top to mountain top.

The topology and geographic orientation of the network is ruled as much by the desired locations for access as well as the shape of terrain. Surprisingly the more mountainous the region the easier it is to build such a network.

example of radio link Example of a link in a proposed network for Papua.Click on the image for a larger view

Since in many aspects the purpose, to help tribal people preserve their way of life, and the means proposed contradict there are other design trade-offs to the usual cost and state-of-the-art. All of the equipment needs to plug-and-play and push-to-operate type as well as being shock-proof and hermetically sealed. And the actual users of this system cannot be expected to even read or write. Fortunately today's portable computers have powerful processors capable of running highly sophisticated graphical-user-interfaces that are easy even for a child to use.