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Wireless networks for Africa

By   |  January 30, 2006

Imagine trying to piece together a wireless network with no manuals, sporadic and slow access to the Internet, inadequate tools, a shortage of supplies, and hostile climates. The authors of a new book, “Wireless Networking in the Developing World”, don’t need to imagine because they have all worked under these conditions and now they have produced a manual they hope will help developing world users to build reliable wireless networks.

The book, which is available for download from the WNDW website, covers topics from basic radio physics and network design to equipment and troubleshooting.

Lead author and editor Rob Flickenger says users in many developing nations face a “chicken-and-egg problem: while much information about building wireless networks can be found online, that presents a problem for people in areas with little or no connectivity.”

He says the book is intended to be a comprehensive resource for people working in the developing world to build wireless networks and includes specific examples, diagrams and calculations. The overriding intention of the book, however, is to provide all the necessary information without requiring access to the Internet.

Another consideration in producing the book, says Flickenger, was that the book should be accessible to readers as possible. Thus the team has released the book under a Creative Commons licence “so everybody can copy and distribute it free of charge”.

The book is very comprehensive and covers all the important areas from the basics of waves and wireless communications, to designing wireless networks for different needs and in different environmental conditions, to security considerations. There are also a series of case studies ranging from Mali to Tanzania to Timbuktu.

Flickenger, who has already published several books, says publishing a book for free has been an interesting undertaking. He says: “The team felt that the need for a freely available collection of practical information greatly outweighed any short term profit.”

For the authors, all of whom spend their time building networks in the developing world, their pay-back will be having a resource to hand to the people they work with. “I wasn’t paid and I don’t expect to earn money with it, though that would be nice,” says Corinna ‘Elektra’ Aichele, one of the books co-authors who has been working on installing wireless networks in Bangladesh.

Spread around the world, the authors gathered in London for a “Book Sprint” last October. The book sprint was the brain-child of Tomas Krag, one of the book’s authors, and was the start of a three-month effort to complete the book.

“The idea was to get a hand-picked, tightly focused team of experts together and aggressively work on a book project,” says Flickenger. The team wrote, edited, and have now released the 250 page manual in only three months. Though he admits it was difficult to motivate a team which was not being paid, especially over the holidays, its efforts have paid off.

The authors also hope that by releasing the book under a Creative Commons licence it will allow others to build on their work and expand or correct it as necessary.

Already there are efforts underway to translate the book into other languages.

For those that want a printed copy of the book the team will be making the book available through the print-on-demand service

The book is available in PDF form and for sale in print at the book’s website:


2 Responses to “Wireless networks for Africa”

  1. Frans
    January 30th, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    South Africa is on its way to a developed country, but even in Cape Town, it seems impossible to get a wireless connection in a place like Khayelitsha.

    For our office there, i tried:
    1 First try was , but they didn\’t even succeed in a visit for a site survey. I called the guys several times, hey promised, but didn\’t show up.
    2 Second was ,they did an site survey, but reported they didn\’t have a signal near our office.
    3 Third is, who said direct they don\’t have coverage in Khayelitsha.
    4 Telkom reports for ADSL: Your exchange does not support DSL and is not on the roll-out plan for the immediate future.
    5 3G coverage is not available in Khayelitsha.

    So, even in a metropole as Cape Town, we are sticked to dial-in or GPRS.

    See our article on ADSL availability in Soweto – ed.

  2. Tony Cossey
    February 1st, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Try this url, getting isp access over a \’bird\’ may not be as expensive as might think. Or wait for ADSL of course.

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