Dili Village Telco Part 2

Monday was training day. We gave two presentations, the first was a non-technical overview of the Dili Village Telco Project. The second was an introductory technical course on the Village Telco, Mesh Potato, and mesh networking. The practical side includes configuring the Mesh Potato using the web GUI and audio UI.

Both presentations were delivered via translation. I would read a few sentences, pause for translation into Tetum (I think – with a sprinkling of Portuguese and Indonesian), then continue. Questions came back the same way. Thank you very much to our friends Alipio and Lemi for translating. Alipio works for Info Timor, who recycle 1st world PCs with Ubuntu and help bring Internet to several towns in Timor Leste via VSAT and mesh networking. He also helped us with translation on our 2009 course on VOIP training.

The language situation here is complex for a country of just over 1 million people. There are local dialects at the regional level, then a national language called Tetum. Due to history, geography, and education many educated people speak Indonesian. The government tends to use and to some extent mandates Portuguese. However everyone wants to learn English – that is where the jobs are, e.g. with NGOs.

Actually Lemi pretty much delivered the entire training course himself, and could field most of the questions. He is taking very seriously the need for multiple people to be trained. The fact that he is already competent in delivering the course is very encouraging.

An important part of the training is configuring the Mesh Potatoes. The guys here are super keen, but perhaps only 10% of them have set a static IP before. It took about 90 minutes to get all 10 MPs set up with a new IP and hence phone number. Here are the sort of issues we encountered:

  • Booting the desktop PC in Ubuntu Linux rather than Windows.
  • Setting the static IP.
  • Understanding the need to power cycle, this is counter intuitive.
  • Some PCs were using eth1 rather than eth0.
  • Some invalid IPs (e.g. 10.30.1001) were entered. There is no validation of IPs so these messed up the Wifi interface. This requires command line access or a reflash to fix.

However these are minor issues. Training people with no Linux experience to configure Mesh Potatoes inside of 90 minutes has to be considered a big win. Remember in the Village Telco model only a few guys (the VT operators) really need to have these skills – the end user just sees a phone.

Lemi and I came up with the idea of a short video, taken with a digital camera or even a phone. Detailed instructions in English may not be helpful if your English skills are not strong. The Village Telco target audience is aimed squarely at the non-English speaking world. However if I see some one type “ifconfig eth0” on a camera I will understand, even if I don’t understand English. A video will also show subtle timing issues that caught us on reflashing. These videos would only need to be a 30-60 seconds long, and would neatly side step the need to translation into multiple languages.

There were some good questions on mesh networking, such as how to run secure data over it, how far apart can the nodes be, and some interest in using directional antennas for longer links. Quite apart from the Mesh capability, a product which combines an ATA and Wifi and is easy to set up seems to have many uses.

We have had interviews in the local press and radio. This article on the Timor Expose site is in the local language (Tetum). There is a summary of media, pod casts, and blog posts on the project here.

In the afternoon a Supernode was placed up the 20m Fongtil tower and a first phone call was made to a hand held Mesh Potato about 300m away. However the Supernode detected 40 other network. There is a lot of point to point Wifi links are used to bridge sites here in Dili, so 2.4 GHz is pretty busy. So out challenge for the next few days it work out how to set up solid Wifi links as we roll out the mesh.


Dili Village Telco Project Wiki
Dili Village Telco Part 1
A non-technical overview of the Dili Village Telco Project in presentation form.
Introductory technical course on the Village Telco, Mesh Potato, and mesh networking.

One thought on “Dili Village Telco Part 2”

  1. The heavy (mis)use of 2.4 ghz spectrum where I live, Nicaragua, is why I gave up on 802.11b & g and went to work on 5.8Ghz 802.11n. I’ve been making enormous progress on that recently (using openwrt on the Nanostation 5M, which is basically my “supernode”). I hope to have results I can share soon.

    I am enjoying your adventures, regardless, enormously.

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