Is there such a thing as DIY internet? An amazing open-source project in Afghanistan proves you don’t need millions to get connected.
While visiting family last week, the topic of conversation turned to the internet, net neutrality, and both corporate and government attempts to police the online world. A family member remarked that if they wanted to, the U.S. government could simply turn off the internet and the entire world would be screwed.
Having read this inspiring article by Douglas Rushkoff on Shareable.net, I surprised the room by disagreeing. I said that we didn’t need the corporate built internet, and that if we had to, the people could build their own. Of course, not being that technically minded, I couldn’t offer a concrete idea of how this could be achieved. Until now.
A recent Fast Company article shines a spotlight on the Afghan city of Jalalabad which has a high-speed Internet network whose main components are built out of trash found locally. Aid workers, mostly from the United States, are using the provincial city in Afghanistan’s far east as a pilot site for a project called FabFi.
FabFi is an open-source, FabLab-grown system using common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles. With Fabfi, communities can build their own wireless networks to gain high-speed internet connectivity—thus enabling them to access online educational, medical, and other resources.
Residents who desire an internet connection can build a FabFi node out of approximately $60 worth of everyday items such as boards, wires, plastic tubs, and cans that will serve a whole community at once.
Jalalabad’s longest link is currently 2.41 miles, between the FabLab and the water tower at the public hospital in Jalalabad, transmitting with a real throughput of 11.5Mbps (compared to 22Mbps ideal-case for a standards compliant off-the-shelf 802.11g router transitting at a distance of only a few feet). The system works consistently through heavy rain, smog and a couple of good sized trees.
With millions of people still living without access to high-speed internet, including much of rural America, an open-source concept like FabFi could have profound ramifications on education and political progress.
Because FabFi is fundamentally a technological and sociological research endeavor, it is constantly growing and changing. Over the coming months expect to see infrastructure improvements to improve stability and decrease cost, and added features such as meshing and bandwidth aggregation to support a growing user base.
In addition to network improvements, there are plans to leverage the provided connectivity to build online communities and locally hosted resources for users in addition to MIT OpenCourseWare, making the system much more valuable than the sum of its uplink bandwidth. Follow the developments on the FabFi Blog.
Image Credit: FabFi