Earlier this week we made our first over-the-internet video call through our CowMesh network from Iruway to our friend Nico and to our office in Bangalore. In absence of reliable mobile networks and complete disconnect from Broadband services, this simple seemingly mundane act of having realtime conversation with someone across the globe marks an Important milestone in our journey towards building networked- story telling opportunities for the 'off networked'.
The road to this video call has been a long-messy-and ongoing journey for us; The challenges we faced in connecting the remote villages together and to the Internet has a lot to reflect upon and rethink about how these novel ideas of community networks actually work and are implemented on ground, away from the almost ideal-lab like settings of the western and urban contexts where a lot of digital technologies originate.
After 2004 Tsunami,thinking about ways of connecting communities,then facebook took over, dharmsala workshop around 7-8 years back when we were focusing more on software,around last year we started playing with small mesh networks at DDhills, it was limited and not wide spread,then covid, Webinar became important..internet connectivity was suddenly more relevant, then 3 weeks back we started, tried with sim but not reliable over there, rest from notebook
—> Current; Our CowPi mesh is based on the Libre router, which is an open-source hardware and software platform for community wifi meshes. We made use of three libre routers one at the top of DDhills, and the other two at Iruway and Durgadhalli, Respectively covering the areas of DD village, our Craft center and Durgadhalli village. The range of libre routers can be limited and a lot of areas of the village fall into "Wifi shadow" zones, We are currently exploring solutions using a network of low cost repeaters to maximize the coverage of our mesh and provide access points at reach of most people.
When we started thinking about the mesh, our primary intent was to enable local community story telling through our papad tool. As the pandemic started unfolding this year, with more and more of work and education moving over to a remote model, Internet access became a fundamental resource, putting rural communities like ours at a great disadvantage. The pandemic had exacerbated the already wide digital divide. As an organization, we also couldn't visit our fields and had to move towards remote-working setups. It presented a unique challenge for us as a lot of communities we work with do not have readily available internet connection for us to engage with them during the pandemic.
Over the course of pandemic we started repurposing our Rasbperry pi's as Webinar devices to enable some of our community teaching into remote learning, for that we started utilizing new platforms like Kolibri and Classmeets to enable the same. But all of this was only possible in DDhills area given access to highspeed-reliable internet, which was not available there. We tried to work around it by using 4G access points but the network in the region being a hill and remote was very unreliable, the only stable connection we got was through BSNL at 2G speeds ( hardly useful for anything in 2020) and even that was on the mercy of electricity as the local tower didn't have any power backup.
After initial trials it became quite clear that we needed a high bandwidth connection with stability of a wired broadband, the hurdle being, our site was remote and inaccessible to most broadband providers, with nearest point of connection being the city of tumkur around 10KM from DDHills. We had to find a way to relay internet from the city to our villages over the air.
We zeroed in on using (insert antenna name) line of sight antennas to establish a link between the hilltop and tumkur. Now our next challenge was to actually find a line of sight, .... how we did this....? highest point of village, using GPS to look for LOS, only one narrow corridor to the city , with only one building at the appropriate height...rava mill, setting up the system , aligning them , the nags and annoyances, its limitations,,,, fibre, setting up, etc
~ Finding the satelite connection and the ravamill
~ new info from this week, challenges of this week.
~ monitoring and etc
→ What else