Upcountry HF E-Mail Network As an Early Component of a Developing
Country's Information Infrastructure
by Daniel Stern, Project Director, Uganda Connect, Mission
'I can feel it in my bones', was how World Food Programme's Peter Casier, put
it. And that intuitive sense of 'knowing', almost without the benefit of our
senses, or even of our reason, can probably best explain how Uganda Connect
came to be involved in promoting upcountry connectivity through transmitting
e-mail worldwide over the Internet by radio data communications network. We
understood that this important new radio e-mail technology should be deployed
with all speed, and made available immediately to the widest number of
sectors, to redress the information gap, the desperate need for rural access
to basic communications so vital to reconstruction and development.
Telecommunications is a key element in any country's strategy for
reconstruction and development. Therefore, much as I believe in free
enterprise, the private sector and deregulation, the implementation of this
truly enabling technology, radio e-mail having now been proven to be an
effective means for upcountry communications, should no longer be left to
market forces. Instead, the technology will require very careful regulation
that will enhance and facilitate its more widespread proliferation, lest by
its neglect it be expropriated by commercial interests, to the detriment of
the nation. May the telling of our story help to correct any misapprehensions.
I'll try to keep it simple.
HF is free-to-air, whereas even the most optimistic projections for promised
LEO connection charges for developing countries of between a dollar and three
dollars a minute are beyond the reach of all but large companies and
As to the benefits of low earth orbit satellite (LEOS), I don't say that many
of us will not one day enjoy them. But in weighing the cost against the
benefits of a project I'd instinctively shy away, tending to Thoreau's view,
in Walden, on the technological wonder of his day, that, 'Our inventions are
wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They
are but improved means to an unimproved end. ... Men have an indistinct notion
that if they keep up this activity ... long enough all will at length
ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing, but though a crowd rushes
to the dépôt, and the conductor shouts 'All aboard !' when the smoke is
blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are
riding, but the rest are run over...'.
That said, I sincerely wish the satellite consortia success, that when the
resulting benefits have been weighed in the balances, against the enormous
investments in human resources, they will not be found wanting, and that the
project will indeed have contributed, as President Mandela put it, to 'enhance
our ability to deliver improved quality of life ... to previously
disadvantaged areas in the continent'. In the meantime I would affirm my
belief in more humble strategies. I had a good laugh when I read about the
leader of Uganda's revolutionary movement stranded while travelling across
Lake Victoria in a motorised launch when the motor seized up; ended up a canoe
and a couple of paddles saved the day. Prudence also would dictate that a
nation avoid putting too many of its delicate and vital rural
telecommunications interests in one basket.
And let's not put the cart before the horse ; for in any case, for a
developing country to be able to quickly get up to speed and to fully benefit
from future advances in telecommunications technologies, the basics of a data
communications infrastructure will have to have already been put into place:
the need for a certain number of PCs, creating the necessary critical mass,
able to be used as telecommunications devices, already on the ground in those
countries; their usefulness for rural projects will have to have been
demonstrated; trainers trained, basic infrastructures as electricity already
developed. In other words, it is unlikely that the sudden availability of high
bandwidth data communications in rural areas, promised by LEOS consortia,
however inexpensive the service, will of itself create upcountry connectivity.
But first there must be an awareness, a sensitization, through the use of
humbler technologies, even such as has been instituted by Uganda Connect in
its programme which uses recycled PCs to "Train the Trainers"; a
sufficient number of PCs will have to be on the ground to connect to, via the
I was sorry if I put a damper on the festive atmosphere of Interactive97's
Software Infrastructure forum for Global Information Infrastructure (GII),
speakers celebrating together with yet another glorious vision of future
technologies supposed to make this a better world. But someone had to speak up
for reality. During the Q&A session I challenged; how practicable were
their innovations towards truly fulfilling the vision of globalisation, of
narrowing the information gap? I'd just come from working in one of the more
progressive of sub-Saharan Africa's countries, where most civil servants were
still working on manual typewriters. When I told of Uganda Connect gathering
secondhand PCs to send in a cargo container, the forum's Chair, Microsoft's
European President, was dismissive of my suggestion that programmers be more
mindful of the developing world's lack of faster chip computers. In response
to my telling how our project trainees had greatly benefited from the more
intuitive Windows 95 environment, and auto didactic office suite programs
written for it - though they ran slowly on 386 PCs - speakers heaped scorn on
the idea of shipping 386 PCs to Africa's developing countries.
I was as keen as any to promote the GII vision; but as anyone will attest who
spoke with visiting developing country ministers, agog at the growing
discrepancies between the GII vision and the reality of what they were working
with in their own offices, the hyperbole was now straining our credibility to
the point of becoming ridiculous. I said, 'I'd love to be able to ship a
container full of 486s and Pentium PCs, but those people urgently need 386 PCs
today, not 486s tomorrow!'
And this really is the crux of the matter: Uganda Connect's small pilot
programme, using recycled PCs, even lowly 386s, instead of newer 486 or
Pentiums; selecting, for their 'Train the Trainer' programme, marginalised
peoples, rather than local elites; and operating an HF/VHF radio data
communications network as an alternative to LEO satellite, for rural
connectivity, is a needed step in the right direction, and may in the end
prove to offer a more viable, less costly and reproducible model for the
continent than smarter looking schemes. Let's see.
Peter Casier was explaining to Uganda Connect's Project Co-ordinator, Caroline
Wieland, how their network had grown to connect the regional headquarters in
Kampala with fifty or so WFP Deep Field Mailing Stations (DFMS) in Tanzania,
Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo for the co-ordination of
food distribution for refugees. But what could explain the puzzled excitement
I felt, as I studied the whiteboard diagram he was drawing, hubs linked to sub
hubs, linked by HF radio for the transmission of data?
I was momentarily distracted as pictures began to flood me. Watching Peter
sketch the structure of the WFP communications network, the nervous system for
the renowned humanitarian body responsible for the feeding of the multitudes,
touching images of emaciated mothers and children reaching out for very life
stirred me. So this was how it was done!
It must have been something I'd caught from the manner in which Peter was
showing me, the tone in his voice, as though we were being instructed how
Uganda Connect might build a similar network for not-for-profit projects in
the region. When Peter turned from the whiteboard to comment, 'Of course it's
a big project and expensive to implement', his usual cheery grin was gone;
instead an imploring look seemed to challenge, 'Got the faith?'.
Our collaboration with WFP began with a rebuff. The commercial HF e-mail
provider had invited us to bring our communications truck to their centre. HF
radio manufacturer, Codan, had agreed to give Uganda Connect their latest
model HF radio and modem on free-loan; and we told the provider that all we
needed from them was their service. We needed to make the technology more
widely known, willing to publicise their service, by making demonstrations
upcountry with one of our communications trucks, on a volunteer basis, for the
sensitisation of rural not-for-profit projects. But their director explained
that their service was rather too expensive for any such scheme, profitable
enough for mining companies, tea and coffee enterprises, but not for the likes
of projects envisaged by Uganda Connect, schools, hospitals, agricultural
cooperatives, community centres, possibly even government offices.
Since first learning of this new revolutionary technology, and wondering why
it wasn't already being used on a wider scale, we had been on something of a
paper chase. To be fair, many expatriate-led companies in Africa, up against
obstructive bureaucracies, had been forced to adopt isolationist policies.
Added to this, Uganda's telco, UPTC, who issued the all-important licenses,
was in limbo, pending the approval by Parliament of telecommunications
liberalisation legislation. ISPs would naturally be reluctant to reveal their
long-term plans or commit themselves to some new alliance; each was
positioning itself for the sound of the starting gun which would announce the
go ahead of deregulated telecoms, ready to claim the new land which would soon
be opened on a 'first come, first served' basis. Now I had to admit their
director had me over a barrel. Neither I nor any of my team of volunteers
possessed the expertise to troubleshoot a serious technical problem upcountry.
And, no, perhaps I shouldn't have expected his company to provide technical
support; how could he justify sending one of their highly paid staff
I agreed that at least in the long term private sector ought to be the means
to make it sustainable. And if they would succeed in putting an HF e-mail
'bush bureau' in every Shell station in the country, more power to them;
they'd deserve the riches earned for supplying the nation with so vital a
service. I heartily support the idea.
However we were dealing with an emergency of national proportions, basic
access to communications could not wait. The town of Bundibugyo had recently
been overrun by rebels, government officials captured and killed because they
didn't have a working telephone with which to call for UPDF government troops
to defend them! Such a telecommunications emergency called for a general
mobilisation. We had to show that HF/VHF e-mail technology was an effective
means of solving the problem. Initial non-commercial projects would require
subsidies, but if carefully implemented would discourage dependency, and be
scaled to be gradually adopted by the private sector on a profitable basis.
After our meeting with the service provider the question was, how now were we
to demonstrate HF data transmission without a service provider?! And where was
the spirit of cooperation and helpfulness that we'd come to expect from others
already caught up in exciting prospects that Internet technologies held for
the taming of the wilderness, for narrowing the information gap?
We refused to believe that we were off the trail. We clung to our first
inspiration, the belief in the importance of this technological breakthrough,
a hybrid of something old, HF radio, something new, radio modems connected to
the Internet, something borrowed, our equipment ; never mind how we felt.
I'd thrilled to read of early pioneers as Vint Cerf, co-creator of TCP/IP, and
moving force behind the Internet, of their faith and determination to create
and perfect a tool of such inherent magnanimity. Now I had to believe that the
rebuff was only a momentary setback, that protective barriers erected by those
who resisted the tide would eventually be swept away; 'knowledge would cover
the earth....' The chase was still on! WFP had a mandate from the AfricaLink
programme (www.info.usaid.gov/alnk) that had originally given support to the
development of the HF e-mail network, to extend their network, share
expertise, for both the private sector, as had been done in the case of the
company mentioned, and for non-WFP projects - such as ours. Oxfam, an
'implementing partner' with WFP had just joined the network. A meeting at
WFP's regional headquarters with our Project Co-ordinator resulted in Uganda
Connect being invited to participate in their programme. Our volunteers were
advised on short notice to get the communications truck ready for an early
morning joint exercise with a team from WFP.
'Come on guy's we're running late', the urgency in Peter's voice as he called
his team to load into the UN 4x4 vehicles called to mind romantic notions of
humanitarian aid agency staff responding to some new emergency, going to the
rescue, with the determination of a fireman jumping into his boots and sliding
down the brass pole. Radio equipment, antenna, telescopic mast carefully
loaded, and we were off.
Our white thirty-year-old ex-Swiss military Saurer 2DM 4x4 almost looked like
a UN lorry. Team mechanic and logistics manager, Emmanuel, had converted it,
deep-cycle batteries, 1000 watt inverter, desks and cupboards for computer
equipment, sides opening with awnings for demonstrations, as we'd done the
week before, parking just outside the Sheraton for the Africa Computer and
Communications show, AITEC.
Arriving near Lake Victoria, we persuaded a couple of soldiers to allow us to
set up the trucks on property not far from one of Idi Amin's former
residences. Within the hour the ten-metre aluminium mast was up, radio and
modem connected to a laptop, and voice contact made with the radio room in
Kampala. That we'd been able to set up so quickly, with broadband antenna,
capable of serving as a base station for any DFMS thousands of kilometres
away, was mighty impressive.
We sent a first short e-mail message, after establishing voice contact,
switching over to the new frequency and checking the quality of our reception.
After our 'ready to make an exchange', the radio room in Kampala took over,
using Lotus cc:Mail to send messages on their server for us, before receiving
our new message. Messages were transmitted quickly. One of the strengths of
using cc:Mail with the Codan 9002 modem was its ability to support high data
throughputs www.codan.com.au We'd put it to the test by transmitting a message
to WFP staff, worldwide, including Rome's headquarters, with a 50k digitised
photo attached. I took photo to capture the moment, members from both teams,
and an observer from UNICEF, huddled round the radio, listening to the sound
of the data being transmitted and watching the throughput indicator, staying
high, going through first time without a hitch and fast!
In another hour we'd dismantled our temporary station, scrambled into our
respective vehicles and were on our way back to Kampala, where, in reply to
our test, congratulatory messages from around the world were already coming
in, proof that claims of truly instant international communications through
this lowly technology were not just hype.
For Want of E-mail
It was on the eve of the our Uganda Internet Society meeting. The editor of
The Monitor had given us a deadline to submit an article about the Internet to
announce the meeting, to be on the theme, the 'Liberalisation of Uganda's
Telecommunications: An Internet Focus'. But power had been cut in Mukono, and
our neighbour's telephone line down, monkeys again! Communications truck to
the rescue! It was the busiest time of the day, WFP allocating frequencies
'first come, first served', and being so close to Kampala was a problem. Our
first attempt to transmit failed. It was a weakness of the Codan cc:Mail
system that it could easily drop the connection if reception conditions were
poor, and this was the case; we dropped the connection several times before we
finally transmitted the attached article via the Internet to the editor.
We can only guess how many of the over 160 who attended, or thousands who
later watched on television news, might not have heard about or been reminded
of the meeting had not our page three article been published in time, all for
want of basic telecommunications. For want of e-mail a kingdom was lost.
Universal access as a means to 'promote economic growth and development,
consolidate democracy and human rights and increase the capacity of ordinary
people to participate in governance'; when I read the South African
President's words, I thought of Uganda Connect's volunteer trainee trainers.
'Ordinary people' were also the means to that end! Chosen from marginalised
groups, school leavers, unemployed youth, refugees, orphans, handicapped,
women and girls who, when compared with local elites, these have demonstrated
a superior ability to adapt; their survival skills no doubt enable them to
adjust the more quickly to the ever-changing environment of information
technology; their seeming weaknesses or disadvantage make them the more adept
at grasping core concepts, or of easily adding to their repertoire of skills;
they have the less to unlearn!
We start students with a typing course, and then move them on to word
processing, before introducing them to the Internet, e-mail, and later the
web. They may also learn how to compile databases or do spreadsheets,
according to each one's interest or predilection. Trainers assist new students
to get off the mark, but then let each work at his or her own pace. Though the
pace is relaxed, the atmosphere is exhilarating, with the feeling that
'something's happening here!'.
New students are accepted only for a short introductory course, with no
promise of receiving any kind of certificate of qualification, but simply the
opportunity of getting hands-on experience in exchange for a token fee, the
equivalent of a bottle of Coke for each half hour. Many leave satisfied at
having been given a good introduction to information technology, others will
have caught the vision, shown a willingness to help with the programme, take a
hand with the other students, and some will continue as trainee trainers.
These trainee trainers, while acquiring basic computer communications skills,
on recycled PCs, are gradually given increasing responsibility in running a
training centre, teaching others early on, with what little they know,
eventually enabling them to run the centre themselves, with the minimal amount
of supervision. Much of the management of centres, supervision and
collaboration, is done by e-mail.
Keep it small, keep it pure, keep it strong - then let it double. Our first
team of six volunteer trainee trainers, who started training from scratch in
when our Ministry of Education offices opened in March 1997, were themselves
overseeing the teaching of one hundred Ugandan students by the end of the
Some of our students who had already attended computer courses in Kampala
commented on how much more quickly they learned with our programme, that they
were rarely given hands-on experience until after they'd read and studied
course materials - about concepts that could only have made sense to them
after they'd had some experience. We did everything we could to minimise
overheads, to the end that we could offer a more friendly approach to learning
the new technology.
Sun Microsystems founder, John Gage, was one of the speakers at the Software
Infrustructure forum who admitted they used only two or three percent of the
popular office suite software's capabilities! How many of us use much more
than that? With the newer programs being so much more intuitive, how long does
it take one to acquire that level of competence? Think about it.
And to those who argue that such a policy is not sustainable, I'd counter that
in dealing with an emergency, you sometimes set up soup kitchens. Let the ones
who volunteer to stir the pot get some good experience under their belts, and
when the emergency is over, some of them should qualify for jobs, maybe even
open their own restaurants.
Our 'Train the Trainers' scheme envisages new centres being set up by
trainees, modelled after our pilot centre in the Ministry of Education, so
that trainees will have acquired management and communications skills, learned
how to work collaboratively with their colleagues, teachers and students,
using the Internet for sending their reports, finding information, as we are
now doing, skills which will make them eminently qualified for employment in
the dawning information age, but more to the point, they are creating
employment, for themselves and others.
Rural Hospital Connected by HF/VHF Radio Link
After WFP had given the green light for Uganda Connect to begin building its
own HF e-mail network for linking not-for-profit projects in rural areas, we
decided to set up our first pilot HF e-mail sub hub in Arua. The idea was that
we could use the WFP server and receive support from their Technical Services
Unit (TSU) until such a time as our network had grown to the point where we
would need to set up our own server.
Paul Wyse is an amateur radio ham who used his radios in Arua to link his
Summer Institute of Linguistic (SIL) offices with other branches around the
world. He and his wife Peggy had been working with the indigenous peoples of
southern Sudan, but due to the civil war had had to move into Arua, on
Uganda's border with Sudan and Congo, about 500 kilometres from Kampala. Here
are excerpts from a report he wrote shortly after I'd flown up to Arua in a
single-engine Cessna with a radio we'd borrowed from WFP to set it up:
'Kuluva Hospital, a mission hospital, is located 12 kms from Arua. It has the
reputation of being the best hospital with in miles. Two years ago a project
from Germany put in a 150 KV hydro plant, so it is the only hospital in the
North with 24 hour electricity. They have the best stocked pharmacy in the
North. Kuluva is working jointly with several labs in the UK and regularly
send specimens back by the courier company, DHL. The problem is that results
take so long to get back. Kuluva is known for it's preventive medicine
approach, as well as reconstruction for children who have had polio and
leprosy work. They are very anxious for an e-mail connection....
'My organization, SIL, is working in a number of language projects and needs
communications to organize language and literacy workshops for a language and
literacy workshops for a number of vernacular language in the area. My vision
for e-mail for the Arua area is to have a hub in the SIL offices with VHF
links to Kuluva, Aru and Africa Inland Mission. The possibilities exist for
some telephone modem connections within the city as well. The interest is
here! The help of Uganda Connectivity Project, in collaboration with WFP, is a
big step in e-mail for the area to be come a reality.' firstname.lastname@example.org
Our collaboration was quite fruitful. Kuluva Hospital and eight other projects
were connected by our sub hub in Arua. Paul compared throughputs for the Codan
and Pactor II radio modems, the latter connecting via HF to South Africa on an
amateur radio band, copying the WFP engineers in Kampala and Codan's R & D
team in Australia, who, together, had pioneered the technology. This helped to
pinpoint weakpoints. Then Paul, together with colleague, Andy Maybury,
pioneered the integration of VHF with HF, using Lotus cc:Mail, so local
projects, as Kuluva connected over short distances using inexpensive VHF, thus
greatly enhancing the prospects for radio-Internet technology to proliferate.
Paul's report dated September 1997 compares Codan with Pactor II
radio modem throughput :
Comparing data between the Codan 8528/9002 and the SCS PTC-II using a Kenwood
TS-450 with power reduced to 50 watts for 27 days between August 14 when we
made our first transfer and Sept. 13. The Codan using cc :Mail, freq.
range of 5.2 to 7.8 Mhz over a 400 mile path, with a lot of hand shaking,
compared with the PTC-II on 20 and 15 meters over a 2070 mile path which was
raw data transmitted.
For the Codan, I am passing 10 to 15 messages a day, messages normally only 1
to 2 Kb. Total for 27 days 1.912 Mb in a total of 12.5 hours =2525 bytes per
minute. This is 27.75 minutes per day average.
Using the PTC-II for same period, 2070 miles path. Total for 27 days 313,959
Kb in 192 minutes = 1635 bytes per minute. This is an average of 7 minutes per
day. The procedure for both systems was to check in twice a day morning and
October 1997 report compares throughputs and connection charges for satphones
and HF e-mail :
Satphone at 2 hours per month the Standby and Regular rate are equal. This
amounts to $202 per month and works out to $3.36 per minute. To make the
Freedom rate useful you have to use over 3 1/2 hours per month. The break even
point for Freedom over Regular is over $600 per month for the lower $2.88 per
Now for some assumptions : I would guess the overhead of cc :Mail
would be the same percentage no matter what the speed. For the Codan, though
advertised throughput is 1400 bps, the best I have been able to do on an
exchange is 458 bps, taking off 90 seconds for handshaking, best throughput ,
516 bps. (Throughputs had averaged 261bps for Codan, 239 bps for PTC II)
Using a 50% average throughput, then with the above figures messages on
satphone would run about $1.00 each. Looking at it another way the Kb rate
would be $.38 as compared with Bushnet of $.30 plus VAT = $.35 per Kb which
would be quite competitive. (Note: The message size for the best throughput
was 2812 bytes per message. A shorter message would have a higher percentage
of overhead and a larger message less overhead.)
One should keep in mind that the Bushnet charges would seem to have been based
upon making them competitive with local rates for international fax rather
than actual costs, otherwise the figures would argue for satellite charges
being comparable to HF e-mail.
Opportunity from Extremity
I was in Geneva to present my paper about recycling at the ITU's Interactive
97 forum on National Information Infrastructure when I received the news that
apparently someone from a certain commercial HF radio e-mail provider had, in
my absence, put pressure on the powers that be to cut our connection with WFP,
on some pretext or other, and that WFP higher ups had reluctantly decided to
give us notice to quit using their server in a few months. Reminded me of Davy
Crockett's boat race with Mike Fink and the River Pirates, though it didn't
seem so funny at the time.
Nevertheless the timing was fortuitous. A colleague at the WFP had already put
together a 'shopping list' for all the equipment and software we would need
when the time came for us to set up our own server. Now the time had come, and
here I was surrounded by CEOs and directors from many of the companies whose
equipment and software we would need, Cisco, Sun, Microsoft. Our team didn't
waste time letting the need be made known, and before the conference was over
we had the earnest promise of help from each of the companies concerned.
Other Men's Labours
As if in confirmation, while I was preparing this paper I received the
following good news by e-mail from WFP's Peter Casier about their recent
successful integration of HF with VHF and UHF for automated wireless
connection to the Internet for e-mail, copied and pasted here, by kind
This is a good start for 1998!
The latest developments will make Deep Field Email within WFP faster, cheaper,
take Email services into a 24h/day coverage and potentially give 'Email on
every computer' in the major field suboffices
It has been about 18 months since WFP's first Email over HF radio DFMS (Deep
Field Mailing System) was implemented in the Great Lakes Region (GLR). Since
that time, we have deployed DFMS in the whole region and propagated the
knowledge, trained and/or assisted people to install the same in WFP HQ and
the clusters of West Africa, the Greater Horn, Angola and Maputo clusters (I
hope I did not forget any). Today, also other UN agencies (UNICEF in
particular), and WFP implementing partners (Oxfam, Worldvision, Norwegian
Refugee council, to name a few) benefit from the same technology, connecting
to our GLR network (and by sharing costs and/or manpower, making our network
cheaper to run)
The technology was so efficient that, in Uganda alone, three commercial Email
providers are now offering Email-over-radio services. More in Africa are to
follow, for sure. When was the last time the UN developed some system which
the commercial world found profitable and sustainable to implement it too?
(grin) Today, we have taken DFMS one step forward, making it cheaper, faster,
and providing better and more services to our staff and remote offices.
1. DFMS Plus: DFMS over VHF radio
DFMS Plus uses the same cc:Mail technology as our current system, but no
longer runs over HF radio, but rather over VHF and UHF radio. This is a major
step forward with obvious benefits. Let me explain: the WFP GLR now has about
55 Email stations in the network. We came to a point that within one town,
there were multiple HF Email stations (one for WFP, one for NRC, one for
Oxfam, one for UNICEF) all connecting to the same WFP network hub. Each of
these stations required a considerable investment: about US$10,000 per HF data
station, including radio, modem, electrical system, excluding the computer and
printer. The HF data link is not really fast, and requires a rather
experienced and well trained radio operator at at least one end of each link.
Each of them had to connect to the HF E-mail server in the country offices.
Waste of time, effort and money! With DFMS Plus, we can now connect Email
stations using off-the-shelf technology available from the radio amateur world
(a packet radio modem and a VHF or UHF radio). We can then run only one HF
link to each location (called a DFMS Point of Presence), and link from there
on, with cheap DFMS Plus stations. So e.g. in Gulu, North Uganda, no more need
for NRC AND UNICEF AND WFP to buy one $10,000 station each. Only one can
procure an HF station, the rest can link to that station with $1,000 DFMS plus
Standard DFMS DFMS Plus runs over HF runs over VHF/UHF and
higher baud maximum baud standard, 19,200 baud available $ 10, 000 for
equipment $ 1,000 for equipment one link per channel unlimited users and links
per channel proprietary protocol shareware protocol (AX25 packet radio) runs
over Codan HF radio, Codan HF modem a wide range of radios and modems
available needs large antenna small VHF/UHF antenna only needs extensive
electricity needs a minimal electrical system system needs at least one radio
operator per link no radio operator needed difficult to automate automation is
standard covers thousands of miles covers within line-of-sight (typically
50-60 km) deployable in 4 hours deployable in minutes
Cheaper, faster, no operators needed, automated, what more can one ask? Well,
it only covers shorter distances (typical 50-60km for VHF/UHF) links. But
there is cheap equipment available, called digipeaters, which act as a relays,
just like a VHF voice repeater. By linking digipeaters we can cover large
areas. This technology is used by radio amateurs to build networks with
thousands of 'nodes' covering all of North America, or Europe for instance.
Let me close to say that DFMS Plus technology can not only be run from fixed
or mobile stations, but even from hand held radios (so we can send pictures
not only from a car, but also using a 5 inch tall radio. hi!).
Maybe one question you will ask yourself: so we did not need to implement all
these HF DFMS stations? Well, in most locations, we needed an HF station
anyway for the voice/security communications, and still for every 'point of
presence' one HF Email system is still needed.
2. 'Email on every computer' even for deep field offices.
Another problem that we faced within WFP was that larger field offices could
still only send and receive Email onto/from one computer: the one in the radio
room. This posed quite a number of practical problems.
Well, last month, we have deployed our first 'cheap' LAN in a field office,
installed a cc:Mail post office there, and linked them up to the Country
office. The honours went to WFP Ngozi as field office linking up by HF radio
to Bujumbura. Note that Bujumbura in itself is linking up to Kampala using HF
radio too (avoiding a potential US$50,000/month bill if we were to do this by
telephone to Kampala)
3. Extending the service hours by automating the DFMS HF clients and the
Up to a short while ago, all HF Email stations required two radio operators to
initiate the link: one at the client (remote) end and one at the server
(country office) end. This meant that email could only be sent when both radio
operators where in the radio room.
Since a while, by implementing some simple HF network management procedures,
we have automated either the server or the client, so that either one can call
in, without a person being there at the other side.
Let me give an example: WFP Kampala's warehouse has a DFMS HF server station,
which is unmanned. It is scanning the whole time. Any client can come any time
of the day or night to pick up and/or drop Email. He just connects to any of
the scanning frequencies of the warehouse. In the other way, UNICEF Kisangani
('the client') is scanning. WFP Kampala is picking up and delivering mail to
them whilst there is nobody in the UNICEF office to monitor the link. They
just know that 4-5 times per day, the email is picked up and dropped in..
Other example: Kinshasa's email is fully automated. WFP/UNICEF Brazzaville or
the Secretary General's Investigation team or any mobile DFMS station in
Congo/Brazzaville can pickup/drop email any time of the day or night,
connecting to WFP Kinshasa. Kinshasa is linked to WFP Kampala email server via
HF radio too, but also this link does not need manning in Kinshasa: Kampala
picks up and drops their mail multiple times per day. In the evening, Kampala
goes on scan, and Kinshasa can drop their mail. Practical, as you should know
that Kinshasa is 2 hours behind Kampala, so we close 2 hours earlier than
Both the DFMS Plus, cheap LANS, and automating the DFMS services provide a new
and better service to our users, I am sure. This way, it will improve the way
we communicate, which, I hope, in the end will assist in WFP to provide a
better and cheaper service in relief and development. Tell me this is not a
A happy new year to all,
For the Great Lakes Technical Support Unit,
In closing, I'd like to express my thanks to all who have so generously given
of themselves, contributed toward helping to improve connectivity in Uganda,
the Ministry of Education and government of the Republic of Uganda, ISPs,
equipment and software suppliers, donors, shipping and airline companies, and
especially our team of dedicated volunteers, the nobodies who have astounded
the sceptics by their simple faith, showing that if they could do it, using
secondhand 386 PCs, anybody can. And that's the idea, isn't it, behind
'African Telecommunications - Strategies for Sustainable Development', show
how to make it work in a down-to-earth practicable way. Do it!