Empowering mountain community to maintain and build wireless network

E-Networking Research and Development
(ENRD) has been running Nepal Wireless Networking Project started in 2002 from the grassroots level with the technical support of national and international volunteers. Except the highly technical issues, the rural people are taking the full responsibility for the maintenance and operation of the network, which is very important for the technical and financial sustainability of wireless networks. However, the wireless network is expanding in many more villages in the mountain region of the Himalayas. Therefore more technical staff from the villages was greatly needed to be trained. With the financial support from, ISIF Asia, ENRD ran wireless networking training programs for the rural wireless operators and has been able to produce highly skilled and qualified trainers and local technicians in the mountain villages. ENRD also developed localized training kits and handbooks to make the trainees understand the technical issues clearly.

For the training program,, ENRD selected fifteen villages from different project sites to run the traimage002ining program. In order to run the training program smoothly for the villagers, ENRD hired two technical engineers, three outreach assistances, and an OM expert. ENRD focused its wireless networking training for the people only from the mountain villages of Nepal. Some of the trainees were new and some of them have been working already as communication service operators for rural communication centers. For non-residential training, the trainees were taken to the project sites and took on-the-spot training. Moreover, some college students, who were doing their Internship with Nepal Wireless, also got involved during the training program. Also ENRD focused on to provide the residential training in the rural set ups so that it would be easier for the trainees to learn the technical ideas in the real situation

ENRD also provided training to the village technicians on installing solar and wind power along with the wireless installation training. It is because Nepal Wireless has to depend upon solar power in the major relay stations. At one station we are using wind power as well. Alternative power source is needed in Nepal because the Nepalese power company has not been able to produce enough power to meet the power demand and there are always long hour power cuts during the dry season of the year.

The training program also focused on teaching how to install lightening protection and power surge protection system. It provided real field experiences to the trainees by installing several relay towers, putting lightening arrestors on the towers, and putting grounding materials by digging the ground. The power surge protection training was important because the power voltage output from main grid line in Nepal is unstable and sometimes the voltage fluctuates unexpectedly that damages the computers, wireless and networking equipment. The micro hydro generators built by the communities in several villages, where we have built wireless networks, also have the unstable voltage output. Therefore ENRD provided training for the installation of relay tower and communication centers with good lightening and surge protection system.

The main objective of the project was to enhance the capacity of the wireless operators of Nepal Wireless Networking Project for building, maintaining and trouble shooting the wireless internet services. Almost all of the trainees were has some or almost no technical backgrounds. Therefore localized training manuals, handbooks and kits were developed for making the project as beneficial as possible for the rural operators. The project provided basic theoretical trainings, however, it focused more on practical training in order to address the developmental problem and to meet the objectives of the project.  By practical training, we mean the training organized in the field where we were setting up real wireless network.   To make the practical training more effective, the project prepared a handbook in simple Nepali language that was used by the wireless technicians and operators during the training period. During the training-cum-installation period our technical team also built Omni directional antennas by using locally available materials, which turned out to be much cheaper than the ones available in the market.

During the training period our technical team members are also built a hybrid network with the combination of wireless and optical fiber cables. This became possible with the support of local cable TV providers in the rural areas. We found that such hybrid network will reduce the cost for building wireless network and it also makes the network reliable because of the use of optical fiber technology. We have also found that it would be cheaper, cost effective and efficient to use micro-hydro power rather than solar power if a mountain stream with good dropping head is available nearby. Such integrated network will certainly increase the scope of the wireless networks in the rural areas.

Moreover, our technical staffs became able to learn new ideas such as putting weather stations and making the weather information available through the Internet.  Wiki developers of Nepal Wireless have created Wiki, for the use of the villagers and have put as much information as possible. ENRD organized a training and installation program of LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) system at one village and Thin Client system in another village, which is less expensive solution to build a computer lab.

In this way the project supported by ISIF has been able to bring several outputs other than just the wireless networking training such as Wiki in Nepali, handbook for the wireless operators, weather station set up training, solar power installation training, and lightening and surge protection training.

Our project also provided training to the local operators on how to manage the communication centers and make it financially sustainable by introducing several services such as Internet phone, e-commerce, e-medicine, and secretarial services etc.

Finally, the community members were actively involved in the project and provided lots of supports during the project period including financing supports. Many of the local expenses for planning the training programs and implementing them were covered by the local communities.

You can download full project report here