An new German initiative, using an interconnected web of robust radio networks and innovative technology, to bring the benefits of Internet connectivity to people living in rural areas across Africa, will be launched in January 2010.
The initiative arose out of the realization that medical services, education and participation in the economy and politics is limited for billions of people living in rural areas where there is no, or at best limited, access to the internet and regional communication infrastructure.
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2008, more than 60% of Africa’s population lives in unconnected areas.
In order to begin to address this reality, in January 2010, the Fraunhofer Fokus will launch the Fokus Net4DC.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems, Fraunhofer (Fokus) is a Berlin-based research facility devoted to studying and developing communication and information technologies.
In particular, it specialises in multi-domain networks and interoperable, user-centered solutions.
“The support of sustainable economic concepts is a global challenge," says Prof Dr Ulrich Buller, a board member of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. “We see our contribution in the supply of mobile communication applications and the construction of modern IT infrastructures in newly industrialising and developing countries."
The main goal of Fokus Net4DC is the implementation — in partnership with local suppliers and businesses — of modern information and communication technologies to enable sustainable access to global communication networks.
According to Prof Dr Radu Popescu-Zeletin, the director of Fraunhofer Fokus and initiator of Fokus Net4DC: “We are accelerating research and development projects which factor in regional demands such as rough environmental conditions, an irregular power supply or the available radio wave spectrums.”
Fraunhofer Fokus is developing intermeshed radio networks for this purpose. These mobile ad-hoc networks are able to connect two or more radio stations – no matter what type of radio is available, whether there are WiFI, satellite or cellular networks – and build “mesh islands".
These communications infrastructures will be run by alternative power supply, and even a person with just a little knowledge of ICT and a little knowledge of English will be able to maintain them.
In addition, the components of the infrastructure will be made of materials that can stand harsh environmental conditions – heat, wind, and sun.
Single nodes – radio routers – on the network will automatically connect to neighboring nodes. If the pathway becomes congested or if one specific component fails, the system reacts independently – without human input. Based on these technologies, the communication networks should be able to achieve the level of quality already familiar to internet users in developed countries across the globe.
In order to meet the technological as well as socio-economic challenges, alongside the IT know-how of Fraunhofer FOKUS, the expertise from various fields of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is also needed.
Fokus Net4DC would like to pool appropriate materials and wireless communication infrastructures for the benefit of the project and would like to co-operate with established partners including businesses, research facilities.
“Fokus Net4DC will develop and make test and evaluation environments available in order to tailor the capabilities and user-friendliness of the different technologies and services to the requirements of each target region”, says Popescu-Zeletin.
One of the first projects of Fokus Net4DC was the connection of the Ubuntu Campus, a remote settlement near the village of Macha in the Southern Province of Zambia.