The rural wireless broadband network in Myagdi District in Nepal
Myagdi, a mountainous district in western Nepal, is home to the world’s deepest gorge and the celebrated trekking route to Annapurna. Forestry and farming are its main sources of employment.
Nepal Wireless Networking Project (NWWP) is an initiative that is introducing ICTs to rural people who have no computer or Internet access or experience, and who have no chance of getting either in the near future. The project has been supported by volunteers, various foundations and 20,000 USD from the World Bank. Its total cost is 30,000 USD.
The network connects fifteen villages, two relay stations and four nodes in one city. The node in the city that acts as the Internet point of presence is 34 km from the first relay station. The nodes in the villages are usually in the schools, but some are in clinics. The network connects fourteen telecentres, twelve of which are interconnected by point-to-point standard 2.4 Ghz and 5.7 GHz WiFi links of between 10 km and 15 km.
Internet cafés, which will generate income for the project, are to be set up in three of the villages visited by tourists.
The network supports VoIP, so villagers can make calls to each other using soft phones (a software program for making telephone calls over the Internet using a computer) or hard phones. For calls within the network there is ample capacity, with a data rate of at least 1Mb/s. In principle VoIP calls can be made from abroad, but until recently the available data rate was only 64 kb/s, so in practice VoIP was not used in this way; the data rate is now 128 kb/s, so single VoIP calls have become more practicable.
The network has telephone numbers drawn from the national numbering plan and is connected to the public telephone network in a city through a PBX. Eight villages are connected to this public telephone network in this way. The incumbent network operator is going to provide 20 telephone connections from that city, when the connections will be extended to 20 villages.
The network is predominantly used for email, web access and VoIP. Some examples:
- People working abroad exchange emails to their families in the villages.
- Students exchange emails with each other and with pen-pals abroad.
- The members of management committees of certain yak farms and campgrounds who are in two villages, exchange emails with each other and with the staff of the yak farms and campgrounds.
- The person looking after the yaks and cows in a cross-breeding program near one of the relay station exchanges emails with villagers and other yak herders.
- Students and teachers get access to educational materials put on the intranet. The educational materials are still being collected for different grades on different subjects, based on the text books, some have been developed by a management and science college in Kathmandu.
- Students and villagers can use the intranet to post messages and news and to publish works such as poems, songs, drawings, and essays.
Live distance teaching is being tested, but better video conferencing equipment is needed to complete the system. Getting a teacher from one high school to teach the students of several other high schools simultaneously would help remedy the shortage of qualified teachers in rural and remote areas.
There is a trial medical programme between one village and a city, in which the health worker of the village communicates with a doctor in the city. The programme is to be extended to other villages where eventually, patients will tell their symptoms to the doctors in the city, with assistance and follow-up treatment by health workers in the villages.
The students of a software engineering college have developed software for an e-commerce web site. Students will help villagers advertise and sell products through the web site.
The project has had no licence (though one was supposed to be required) and it has used VoIP, which was illegal, and works outside legal regulations. The NWWP has had to lobby for rural Internet service providers and for making VoIP legal. It has also faced difficulties in getting equipment (particularly antennas and small parts).
Source: Nepal Wireless: Current Progress, and Plans for 2006 of Nepal Wireless Networking Project, http://www.nepalwireless.net/progress.php, and discussions with Malabar Pun.