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Wireless For Communities

Wireless for communities workshop

Connecting the Unconnected

As the world's population increasingly goes online, we must ensure that Internet access is extended to underserved towns and villages, particularly to marginalised communities, which stand to benefit most from Internet-enabled tools for development.

Many of those who have yet to go online reside in remote and hard to reach areas, and are often more economically disadvantaged than the 2.4 billion people who can connect to the Internet today. Getting the rest of the world’s population online thus entails not only investments in infrastructure and locally relevant content, but also solutions that make access available at an affordable price, with a sustainable level of service.

Establishing a Foundation in India

Despite its more than 900 million fixed and mobile phone subscribers, the difference in India between urban and rural areas is significant. However, wireless technologies have much to offer in delivering cost-effective connectivity, right down to the last house in a village or rural environment. 

Community-based wireless networks have emerged as a practical and feasible means to provide this much needed connectivity in such rural and under served environments. 

Empowering Communities Through Wireless Connectivity

Wireless technologies can provide cost-effective Internet connectivity to dispersed communities located in challenging terrain.

The Internet Society, in partnership with the Digital Empowerment Foundation and the Nepal Wireless Networking Project, has helped establish a mesh-type Wi-Fi networking to provide basic connectivity to remote villages and towns in South Asia.

The success of this project and others like it demonstrates that wireless technologies will be a key component in the Internet’s future growth. Further innovations in wireless technology and the increasing efficiency of solar energy systems will combine to provide a feasible and sustainable connectivity solution in such environments.

Motivating Factors

In 2010, The Internet Society initiated the Wireless for Communities project on the basis of two primary motivating factors:

  1. To provide basic connectivity and enable access to information for citizens outside urban centers, and in rural and remote areas in particular.
  2. To address the lack of content, products, and services originating from rural areas, which prevents economic benefits from percolating to the bottom of the pyramid. 

By the Community, for the Community 

The Wireless for Communities project has three components:

  1. The first is oriented toward capacity building, where the community receives training on how to establish community wireless networks. Communities are empowered via a structured Training of Trainers program that equips participants with the information they need to design, deploy, and operate wireless networks. This helps build a pool of local experts, who in turn can train community members. A separate workshop, held in qualified rural locations, introduces local community members to wireless networks and their deployment and operation. 
  2. The second component is the actual deployment of wireless network infrastructure in rural locations. The technology used is Wi-Fi, which is generally structured in a wireless-mesh-type configuration for redundancy and reach, providing access in and around a community (usually a village). 
  3. The third entails broadening Internet access in existing locations by expanding WiFi connectivity to surrounding areas. Community workshops to enable local Internet users to create content and services online are also carried out.

Wireless for Communities and Open Spectrum Summit

Best practices and ideas from the field and the policy table are deliberated at the Wireless for Communities and Open Spectrum Summit, a consultative dialogue between government agencies, industry players, network implementers and academics. Established by the Internet Society in 2011, the W4C Summit has since become an annual event that brings policy experts and field practitioners to discuss ways through which wireless technologies and unlicensed spectrum can be utilised to overcome traditional infrastructural barriers to extend connectivity to India’s remote regions.

The last Summit, held in New Delhi in December 2013, resulted in a concrete set of recommendations to overcome local challenges in wireless network deployment and operations. These included de-licensing more spectrum bands as a way of anticipating future demand, and making available a form of rural licensing scheme to enable local networks to operate without the high costs of acquiring a license.

Project Growth and Expansion

Piloted in the traditional weaving town of Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh, the project has since been deployed in nine other rural sites across India. Training workshops have likewise been conducted in Dhaka, Bangladesh and in Thimpu, Bhutan.

Watch these short videos for more information on the work of the Wireless for Communities project in Chanderi and Baran.

Awards and Recognition

The positive impact of the Wireless for Communities project on its target beneficiaries has been consecutively recognized by two prestigious international organisations . In December 2013, the initiative bagged PublicAffairsAsia’s Gold Standard “Internet for Good Award,” an accolade for projects that have successfully used the Internet as an interactive engagement tool for public and community welfare. The month prior, it also won the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission’s (MCMC) “Connecting at the Roots” contest in the “Broadband for Communities/Schools” category. The latter, which was announced at the ITU Connect Asia-Pacific Summit, rewards programmes that utilise broadband connectivity to aid a nation’s socio-economic development.



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