Upcountry HF E-mail Network - Summary
Upcountry HF E-mail Network As an Early Component of a Developing
Country's Information Infrastructure
by Daniel Stern, Project Director, Uganda
Connect, Mission Mobile Education
A new and important technological discovery, which combines Internet
technology with radio modems, allows the transmission of data communications
by electronic mail (e-mail) for upcountry areas without any telecommunications
infrastructure, and holds promise for the desperately needed rural access to
basic communications so vital to reconstruction and development on the African
continent and elsewhere.
A network comprised of strategically placed high frequency (HF) radio stations
for long distance (thousands of kilometres), connected to local VHF stations
within line-of-sight (40-50 km), offers a relatively inexpensive and portable
solution which may be deployed easily and quickly, and run with a minimum of
technical training. Uganda Connect urge that such radio-data networks be
established nationally, and be made available immediately to the widest number
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.
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 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 expatriate NGOs.
And 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 for a
developing country to be able to quickly get up to speed and to fully benefit
from future advances in any telecommunications technologies, the basics of a
data communications infrastructure will have to have already been put into
place: a critical mass of PCs already on the ground; their usefulness for
rural projects demonstrated; trainers trained, basic infrastructures as
electricity developed. In other words, time to get a move on !
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 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.