[Freedombox-discuss] Low Cost Community Wi-Fi Networks
I recently had an opportunity to work with an team on setting up a low
cost community Wi-Fi network in a village nearby here in India. I wrote
an article about it. It is attached.
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LOW COST COMMUNITY WI-FI NETWORKS
Sunil Mohan Adapa
Table of Contents
4 Technology Used
5 Support Structure
7 Some Statistics
8 Future Work
9 About FreedomBox
10 About Swecha
Wi-Fi services have been launched on 18th February 2017 in the model
village of Gangadevipally in Telengana, India. This is the
culmination of several months of effort by the voluntary organization
Swecha and developers of the FreedomBox project. The network has been
designed and implemented with the help of volunteers from various
local engineering colleges.
People of the village can enjoy free Wi-Fi to access the Internet.
This will allow them to perform electronic transactions, get market
information and view educational videos. They will also be able to
make audio calls to each other on smart phones without any cost using
this infrastructure. Educational materials such as training videos on
competitive exams, vocational training, specialized techniques
etc. will be made available using another service called Digital
Library that is now made available.
The entire implementation was done at a very low cost of 75,000
rupees. Although, this was done using donations from individuals, the
entire network is owned and operated by the Panchayat, the local
governance body. The entire 1km length and 200m width of the village
is covered with 31 separate access points to provide strong coverage.
Internet connection from an ISP available in an neighboring village
has been made available in this village by a 2.6km radio link. The
Internet connection is paid for by the Panchayat.
Swecha acts as a technology partner to maintain and further develop
the network. These services are made possible by a home server
technology called FreedomBox. The team intends to explore the use of
the networks for further services such as tele-medicine. They will
also help the villagers learn how to use a smart phone for various
day-to-day needs and for the benefit of their work. They hope to take
this model to many more villages by engaging the talented youth
available in local engineering colleges.
The team consisted of members of Swecha, 10-15 volunteers organized by
Swecha who are mostly students from nearby engineering colleges and
developers of the FreedomBox project.
The work involved some research, testings and some trail and error and
was done over period 3 months. Four separate trips each for a
duration of 2 to 3 days were made to get the setup work done. Away
from the village, in a Swecha center, about 2 to 3 weeks of work was
done for extensive testing, configuring and other preparatory work.
The next such installation for another village is expected to take
significantly less effort.
4 Technology Used
- Server Hardware: A single board computer with low power requirements
known as Olimex OlinuXino Lime 2 with a dual core ARMv7 processor, 1
GB RAM, 1 Gbps LAN acts as the central server.
- Server Software: FreedomBox is the Debian GNU/Linux based software
stack the runs on the single board computer. It provides an easy to
manage user interface for installing, configuring and managing
various services. It also provides automatic firewall management,
automatic security upgrades and monitoring options.
- Wi-Fi Antennae: Low cost Wi-Fi routers based on Binatone WR1500N.
These were customized for use in villages by Delhi based supplier.
These routers work using 802.11n standard in 2.4 GHz frequency band.
The antenna in the routers is a patch antenna that provides a
focused beam spanning 45 to 90 degrees horizontally. The routers
come with Power-over-Ethernet capability and weather-proof casing.
The firmware running on these devices is free and open source
software: OpenWrt. This allows extensibility, advanced monitoring
and management capabilities.
- Wi-Fi Towers: Custom designed metal pole base act as basis for
mounting the Wi-Fi access points. Each of these metal poles provide
a solid foundation structure to erect the pole, extension arms for
holding 6 Wi-Fi access points, and a weather proof box for holding
an Ethernet hub and power supply for the access points.
- Back-haul: A mix of 100 Mbps Ethernet and 100 Mbps optic fibre
connection acts as backhaul to connect various access points.
- Internet Radio Link: Two outdoor Wi-Fi routers with a long range
dish antennae were used to connect the village to the neighboring
village. These routers operate using the 802.11n standard in the 5
GHz frequency band.
- VOIP Software: To allow free voice calls across the village. A free
software VOIP server known as repro was setup on FreedomBox. It
uses the SIP protocol for communication. On the client side,
another free software program built for the Android operating system
know as CSipSimple was used.
- Community Radio: A free software audio streaming application known
as Ampache was setup on FreedomBox. On the client side free
software mobile applications for Android were installed on users'
smart phones. These are Power Amdroid and Amdroid.
- Digital Library: To allow people of the village to download videos,
books and other information from the server, NextCloud, another free
software server was made available on FreedomBox. Android
application for NextCloud acts as client on villagers' phones for
accessing and uploading new content.
- Service Monitoring: To respond to service outages and help with
maintanence basic anonymized usage statistics are being collected
using additional free software such as collectd, graphite and
5 Support Structure
A three level support structure was put into place for maintenance and
further improvement of the network. First team consists of four
villagers with basic understanding of technology. This team is
elected by the village and is responsible for account management,
dealing with Internet connection account, ensuring power supply,
physical care for the structures, reporting outage and collecting
Second team consists of engineering students who are volunteers from
nearby town. This team has the understanding to setting up Wi-Fi
networks for a village. They are responsible for maintenance of the
network such as replacing broken hardware and fixing server software
Third team consists of developers of the FreedomBox project and the
team at Swecha. This team is responsible for fixing software bugs and
development of further services.
Teams shall be notified of service outages using a monitoring system
setup on the FreedomBox device. Data such as server load,
availability of Internet connection and anonymized usage statistics
are collected by a server outside of the village until the system is
deemed stable for intra-village management.
Setting up community Wi-Fi networks for a fraction of typical cost is
possible. Additional services such as free VOIP, audio streaming and
file sharing also becomes possible with a community model.
This model of community network establishes an alternative method of
providing free internet access to rural population of India and
bridging the digital divide. It also disproves the argument that Net
Neutrality has to be violated by telecommunications providers,
internet service providers or internet giants to achieve this goal.
It goes on to show that for the price of 2 months of mobile network
subscription paid by villagers, they can setup their own internet
infrastructure. They can also get the internet connection at a less
than one tenth the cost of the mobile internet connections.
The community model ensures that even people who can't effort a mobile
connection or mobile internet connection can get free internet access
on their smart phone. This ensures that economic inequalities does
not result in digital divide.
Networks owned by communities have a better opportunity to resist
censorship, avoid mass surveillance and protect privacy and digital
rights of users.
7 Some Statistics
- The population of the village: about 1000
- Estimated number of smart phone users in the village: 150-200
- Smart phones registered for VOIP usage: nearly 110
- Typical number of devices connected to the Wi-Fi network: 30-40
- Internet connection bandwidth: 8 Mbps
- Data usage per month: 50+ GiB
8 Future Work
Swecha and the FreedomBox project intend to take this model to many
more villages with the help of volunteers from Swecha mostly from
engineering colleges. More importantly, extensive documentation on
helping people setup their own networks is being prepared. There are
also plans to organize workshops for people indenting to setup their
own lost-cost Wi-Fi networks and services in their own communities.
9 About FreedomBox
"We're building software for smart devices whose engineered purpose is
to work together to facilitate free communication among people, safely
and securely, beyond the ambition of the strongest power to penetrate.
They can make freedom of thought and information a permanent,
ineradicable feature of the net that holds our souls."
-- Eben Moglen
FreedomBox is a 100% free software server to deploy social
applications on small machines. It provides online communication
tools respecting privacy and data ownership. FreedomBox can be used
at home to replace services provided by third-parties mining people's
life and using their content. Thanks to a very friendly interface,
one will be able to deploy on-demand applications focusing on
confidentiality such as file sharing, shared calendaring, instant
messaging, secure voice conference calling, blog and wiki. FreedomBox
is a free software stack, a subset of the Debian universal operating
system, that can be installed in many flavors of inexpensive and
power-efficient Open Source hardware, called single board computers
(SBC). Once installed on the hardware of choice, the simplicity of
setting up and operating a FreedomBox is similar to that of a smart
10 About Swecha
Swecha was founded in 2005 as an organisation to support the Swecha
project, it is now a vibrant community of software users, students,
academicians and software professionals/developers determined to
provide quality software built on the guidelines of free software
development model. Swecha aims at providing global software solutions
to the local people with the Free Software development model by
working together with the community of developers and users all over.