The following story is told by Mahabir Pun, the Team Leader of Nepal Wireless Networking Project.
It started with a wish. In 1996. I wished to get Internet in my village for the first time after Himanchal High School got four used computers as presents from the students of a school in Australia. Internet and e-mail were quite new terms then.
The computers they had sent were two 386 PCs, one 486 PC, and one laptop (486 PC). With the initiative of Mrs. Janita Keating (a teacher) the students of Billanook College in Melbourne, Australia collected the computers and raised money to ship them to Nepal. Our dream then was to have the students of Billanook College and Himanchal High School communicate with each other through e-mail. That dream did not come true instantly. The main reason was that there was no phone line in the village to connect to the Internet.
I tried everything to get a telephone line in the village. For a while we got a radio phone for the village, but it did not work well. Even when it worked it was not clear enough to get an Internet connection. The next option was to get a satellite connection. I tried to find ways to get a satellite phone connection in the village, however, the cost was beyond our means. I knocked at the doors of the political leaders and officers of Nepal telephone company for help, but nothing happened.
Everything I tried to get telephone line did not work. It seemed to me that there was no way unless we found somebody to financially help us get a satellite telephone in our village.
I did not give up, though. I kept on asking people for ideas. I also wrote a very short e-mail to the BBC in 2001, asking if they knew any body who could give me ideas (if there were any) to get a cheaper Internet connection cheaper to my remote village in Nepal . They took my interview and wrote the articles "Village in the Clouds Embraces Computers" and "Praise for 'Inspirational' Web Pioneer" about my school and and the computers we had built in wooden boxes. That article changed everything: I got many responses with ideas from people all over the world. That was the first time I heard about Wi-fi (802.11b) wireless technology.
As a result of the BBC article, we had two volunteers in early 2002 in the village from Belgium (Johan Verrept) and Finland (Jonni Lehtiranta), who had some ideas about the wireless networking. Jonni Lehtiranta brought two Cisco PC Wireless Cards (Aeronet) that were donated by IBM Finland. Johan Verrept did some research on the Internet.
We did several experiments in 2002 with the wireless cards to test the connection between two villages, Nangi and Ramche, which are about one and a half kilometers (about a mile) apart across a river valley. We used ordinary TV dish antennas and some home-built antennas for the testing. Robin Shields from USA was also involved in the testing.
|May 2002 - The first relay tree at Mohare to connect Pokhara||The first testing to link Pokhara from Mohare in May 2002|
The test was successful. Therefore, we decided to write a draft outline of a proposal. Johan wrote the technical aspect of the proposal. Thus, a very rough draft of the networking plan was born.Later on, many people from around the world helped me to get more ideas about the wireless technology. Among them, David Reid from Newzealand, Stuart Henderson and Lee Hughes from England, Vijay Bollapragada and Sage Radachowsky from the US, Ting Sern Wong from Singapore, Josh Skinner from Canada helped a lot by providing many information regarding the technical information and equipment available in the market.
A Good Incident
After a few months, I came in contact with Mark Michalski, an undergraduate student of the University of California at Los Angeles through Robin Shields. Robin was just back to Los Angeles after volunteering three months in our high school. Incidentally, he met Mark Michalski in a class at the university. After hearing from Robin about what I was trying to do, Mark became interested in the networking project and decided to apply for a grant through the Donald Strauss Foundation. Mark and I discussed about the plan in detail through e-mail. Mark wrote a proposal and applied for the grant.
To overcome the obstacle, we picked up a tall tree on the top of the mountain and used the tree as relay station. On the tree, we tied two dish antennas (one 8 foot wide and the another 3 ft wide), a 50W photovoltaic panel with 40 amp-hour rated 12V storage battery along with two D-Link access points. We put the access points, the power supplies, hubs, voltage converters in a wooden box and tied it near the antenna on the trunk of the tree. We also put a TV dish antenna (8 ft in diameter) in our village pointing towards the relay station.
We had partial success. One thing we found was that we definitely could connect Pokhara to my village using the 802.11b access points because we could connect to Pokhara from the relay station hill.
However, we could not connect to Pokhara directly from the village that time even though we tried everything we could. We tried to get technical assistance from the support team of D-Link, however, they told that they would not provide any support if we had modified the built-in antenna of their access points.
After Johan left I played with the access points for a few more weeks. I figured out that I could connect to Pokhara if I set the transfer rate of the radio at 2 Mbps, put the access points further apart and put a screen made of aluminum foil in between them. It worked well but there was shortage of power to run the radios for all day. We had connection only for a couple of hours everyday.
The Wish Fulfilled After 7 Years
It took 7 years (from 1996 to 2002) for the wish to be fulfilled. Finally, Mark Michalski got the grant from Donald Strauss Foundation. Mark Michalski, Robin Shields, Sage Radachowsky, and James Pearson and decided to come in August 2003. Before they came, they did some testing of the equipment in Los Angeles. Robin did a lot of research on the server program (Jana Server 2) that we are using now and Sage found a suitable outdoor access point, made by smartBridges, Mark bought the following equipment with the money he got from the grant:
- 12 smartBridges Air Point Pro Access Points
- 14 lightening arrestors for the access points
- 14 Pacific Wireless 24 dB Directional Antennas
- 2 120W Solar Panels and Voltage Regulators
- 2 400W Air-403 Wind Generators
- 3 75 Amp-Hour Trojan Deep Cycle Gel Batteries
In this way the three week process of installing the wireless equipment started on August 22, 2003. Since the team had arrived in Nepal in the middle of the monsoon, it rained almost everyday we were working. Jo Ann Ong (from Texas) also joined the team when we were half way through. Pointing the antennas in the right direction was the main problem. We could not see Pokhara and Relay Station 2 at all from the Relay Station 1 hill. We had to guess based on our instinct to direct the antenna towards the server in Pokhara and Relay Station 2.
Back Home With an Urforgettable Memory
The team, who helped to set up the first network went back home after four weeks with an "unforgettable memory" after staying about a month in 2003. The most interesting part of the networking project that Robin, James, Mark, Sage and Jo Ann will never forget were the innumerable and terrible leech bites they got during the trip. There were leeches everywhere we went, and they did not loose opportunity to suck the blood as much as they could. The rest went well, and the network construction was a success.
The Netowork Now
We have come a long way in the past fourteen years now. We have built network in 15 distreicts of Nepal. Altogether 175 villages are connected now. We believe that we still have to go long way to bring the full benefit of the Wi-fi technology to the villagers. At present we are connecting 15 villages of Gorakha, Tanahun, Myagdi, Sindhupalchok districts as our project in 2016
Nepal Wireless Networking Project could not have been able to do all the things it has been able to do without the support of its partners. Our partners for different projects are as follows.
1. Japan International ICT Association (JIIA) for technical collaboration for technical support
2. E-Networking Research and Development for wireless networking projects
3. Thamel.com, Kathmandu for implementing money transfer, credit card transaction services.
4. Himanchal Educational Foundation for raising funds for the project abroad
6. Open Learning Exchange Nepal for educational material in Nepali language for rural schools and e-library
6. Gandaki College of Software Engineering, Pokhara for application development
7. Nepal Research and Education Network for networking issue
8. Kathmandu Model Hospital for telemedicine