Ermera Village Telco

The Dili Village Telco project has been extended to include two smaller (10 node) networks in Baucau and Ermera. The talented Anders Hofstee is using Mesh Potatoes to add voice capability to his existing mesh network in Ermera. Anders works for Catalpa International and his primary role is health care in the Ermera district.

After a few months operation Anders reports:

We’re just setting out now, but so far it has made communication between a few of the clinics and police in our area possible. The initial focus is to increase access to Ambulance and health services. Our local telco doesn’t provide sufficient coverage in our area and police radios are also ineffective. It’s only through local solutions like VT and our Net-i-Foho that we easily communicate within and between villages. These villages are each at least an hours drive apart and many hours by foot, which is common. That said, we’re still just starting out and have much work left to do.

We’re using them to communicate between the Clinic and Community Centre in Eraulo. They’re also being used by Police, Clinic, and in Gleno and the same in Lete Foho.

….what this means for us is that now we can receive and respond to Ambulance requests and contact the local hospital.

Ermera is a really interesting application for Village Telco technology. It demonstrates the “market segment” for local calls. In Ermera there is no effective telecommunication. People literally have to walk hours to communicate on foot. No GSM or land lines. This is hard to imagine for people in the developed world. It’s one of the reason Beta deployments like the Dili Village Telco are so important. We have discovered the simple magic of a local call.

Some other data points:

  • Anders has integrated the Mesh Potatoes with other routers running OLSR and OpenMesh (Robin). Batmand was installed on the existing routers running OpenWRT with Robin/OLSR, and new IP interfaces set up. This lets him use all his existing links. Pretty cool. I imagine the reverse is possible, e.g. install packages for OLSR or Robin on Mesh Potatoes, to make them talk with existing mesh networks.
  • Ermera is located in the mountains and there is very little other Wifi traffic. So he is getting good voice quality and no interference issues.
  • The links involving Mesh Potatoes are about 100m but in his existing network there are some longer distance links bridging longer distances.
  • The solar panels from his mountain top repeater site were recently stolen, shutting down a link between villages.

One email Anders sent me was really interesting:

Six staff members have participated in training so far. The system couldn’t be easier to set up. The hardest part was getting people to hang up the handset while they were expecting a call or wanting to end a call. This, it seems, is counter intuitive if your only experience with voice calls is a mobile phone.

Amazing but something I hadn’t realised – many people in the developing world have never seen a land line. They need training in hanging up a phone!

I hope to visit Anders in Ermera early in 2011. More on the Ermera Village Telco then.