Dili Village Telco Part 10

This post describes the progress of the Dili VIllage Telco over the last few months. We are currently part way though Work Package 4000, the installation of a 100 node Village Telco in Dili, Timor Leste.

Pilot Network

From May to July the Fongtil guys operated a 10 node Pilot network which linked Fongtil HQ with two University sites and some NGOs. The stability has been good, and the network is in daily use. Lemi reports:

“Yes David it is working, only some times we get some delay from here to Eiros training center but for both University sites and Ase’s training center it is working perfectly. At the university they use every day for training and computer trouble shooting. We use the network to inform our members about meetings and members like ETBU (East Timor Blind Society) call us for help desk problems. We hope to install more Mesh Potatoes for stronger coordination between NGOs.”

Shipping Potatoes to Afghanistan

In early August 90 more Mesh Potatoes and assorted cables, phones and other equipment arrived from China and Australia. A funny thing happened on the way – the courier some how sent our precious 90 Mesh Potatoes to Afghanistan instead of Timor Leste! Apparently, there is a town called something like Dili in Afghanistan. Anyway it took a few weeks to sort out but with Edwin’s help we finally got the Mesh Potatoes back to Timor Leste where they belong.

Shipping equipment to a developing country is difficult and expensive. A $70 Nanostation 2 from a US on-line store costs $170 delivered to Dili (in Qty 5-10). Couriers like DHL and UPS must be used – the local Post Office has a habit of holding up or losing packages. Rosemary and I sent $2,000 worth of equipment which cost $1,200 in shipping. The $1,200 quote was the cheapest – one courier company wanted over $2,000! Efficient distribution will be a major ongoing challenge for the Village Telco as Mesh Potatoes enter production. We will need to develop innovative ways to get Mesh Potatoes into the hands of people who need them without paying crushing delivery fees.

Dili Roll Out

The Fongtil team are now very busy installing MPs all over Dili. I can’t keep up with how fast they are installing them! This is very exciting – there seems to be real customer pull from the community. Everyone wants a Mesh Potato.

One exciting development is “second generation” training. We ran a workshop and training course in April, and the Fongtil guys are now training additional people on assembly and installation of Mesh Potatoes. Lemi says the key to this is the ease of configuration – just dial 2663 (which spells CONF) on a phone to set the IP:

Second generation training

Assembling Mesh Potatoes

The MPs we are installing in Dili are V1.2 Beta PCBs mounted in robust weatherproof boxes that have been sourced by Atcom. More about Atcoms fantastic contribution to this project later on. Because the boxes are plastic, the antennas can be mounted inside, which avoids another hole and weatherproofing issues:

Weatherproof box install

Here is the current state of the network, click for the full size map:

Map at start of WP4000

The problems with setting up reliable links are persisting, in particular connectivity between the clusters on the map above. Big trees makes establishing Line of Site (LOS) links very hard. Unfortunately big trees and a tropical climate (so common in the developing world) go hand in hand. Lemi and the team are working to plug the gaps with strategically placed Nanostation 2s.

Power Over Telephone Line

Atcom have developed a neat little PoTL injector box, here is a photo of it in use:

PoTL means only one cable need to go up the mast for power and phone connectivity. Some other people are also working on RJ45 Ethernet breakout boxes that allow just one cable for phone, power, and Ethernet.

One trap – to use PoTL don’t forget you need phone cable with at least 4 conductors:

Kindness of Atcom

Atcom have done a fantastic job on this project. They made a special production run of Beta Mesh Potatoes, sourced telephones, weatherproof boxes, and handled the complex shipping arrangements. They also coordinated testing and calibration of the Mesh Potatoes. This was a huge job which they did at cost price – they basically weren’t paid for many man months of work. Not many commercial companies would go this far to help a developing world project. It really shows just how kind the people at Atcom are.

Here is a picture of Peter and Mr. Lee, the two founding partners of Atcom:

Peter and Mr Lee from Atcom

Thank you very much Peter and Mr. Lee for your kindness and support for the Dili Village Telco. Thanks also to Edwin, Alen, and the other people at Atcom who helped out on this project.

ISIF is Looking for Sponsorship

This project has been generously sponsored by the good people at the ISIF, who also sponsor many other worthwhile ICT development projects. The ISIF is now looking for corporate support and sponsorship. Brochures on the ISIF can be downloaded here.

This project was also made possible in part through a donation from the Internet Society (ISOC) Community Grants Program.

Fongtil Excitement

Here are some choice quotes from Lemi about the project that show just how happy and excited they are. Lemi is using the Mesh Potatoes to connect various NGOs (Fongtil is an umbrella organisation for NGOs in Timor Leste).

The project has really captured the enthusiasm of the Fongtil staff. People really want to work on the Dili Village Telco project. I think this is really interesting. A telephone systems that is fun to install?

……but every body in Fongtil want to participate in installation and configuration this mesh potato activity.

Some “masts” have side benefits:

Put in FTH NGO up in coconut tree after we put it we can drink some coconut for free!

Fongtil does a lot of work coordinating NGOs in Dili, so they are installing Mesh Potatoes at a bunch of different NGOs. Worthy causes we are helping connect.

We did instalation in 5 location in Dili we setup some instalation in Hak (human right NGO), Fokupers (women networking NGOs), Hasatil (agriculture networking NGO), FTH (HIV Advocacy), Hafoti (Agriculture NGO).

I asked Lemi “why are you are installing the nodes so fast?”

Because we build our own infrastructure with low cost equipment and we can maintenance by our self. Second thing is expensive cost for phone call in Timor-Leste and we want to prove that have alternative we can use it, and because we have super support for our friend like David, Steve, Elektra and all Mesh Potato community for developing this system.


1. More photos of the Dili Village Telco roll out.
2. The Dili Village Telco Wiki.
3. Other blog posts in the Dili Village Telco series.

2 thoughts on “Dili Village Telco Part 10”

  1. Re cheaper deliveries, here’s two blue-sky, crazy, long-term ideas :)

    1) Ultimately it would be great if the Mesh Potatoes could be built (and then distributed) in the country they’d be used in.

    2) Why aren’t there more local, reliable delivery services? When we were in Bali, there seemed to be plenty of men with cars willing and able to act as taxis given the slightest chance … I wonder if it’s a matter of government red tape or a matter of trust and reputations?

  2. Hi Luke,

    Re (2) lots of services we take for granted in the 1st world don’t work very well in the developing world. I don’t have a good answer. Infrastructure, education, lack of institutions I guess. It also costs a lot more to get to fly to Timor than Bali.

    Yes I would like to see (1) happen in developing countries too.



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