I recently responded to Graham Matthews in Swaziland by posing this
> > What solution would you propose instead for a remote site, far from
> > telephone lines, where no one on staff has competence in
> > communications technologies?
His response was this:
> At $300+/Mb, I think "no electronic communication" would be a
> solution worth considering.
Thanks! I do very much agree with you that some data should not be
transmitted at that price.
> Never underestimate the bandwidth represented by a briefcaseful of
> recordable CDs in the back of a Toyota 4x4. Two (650Mb) CDs on a
> 2-hour drive are the equivalent of a T1 (about 1.4Mbit/sec, against
> the 1.544Mbit/sec of a T1 circuit).
That's what this agricultural research station was already doing.
They found it to be unsatisfactory for certain kinds of data
transmissions, and asked for assistance in installing an HF radio
system. We assisted by helping them assess the technology, by
accompanying their staff to visit a local service provider, by
assuring that the answers proposed by the service provider were
understood, and by laying out alternatives for them to consider.
In the process, the costs were carefully presented to them,
and they responded that these could be managed. They are in a pilot
phase now where they are essentially given free service but are told
what their bills would have been, so that they can fine-tune their
cost-control systems. The service provider, Bushnet, has been most
helpful in this process, including providing free access during the
The ag research station director is putting into place a system to
manage costs, essentially by assuring that only critical and timely
data are transmitted by HF radio. Your solution, which we call a
"sneakernet" (since the wire is replaced by a person wearing
sneakers/shoes), is used for everything else, including web browsing.
The staff of the Agricultural Research Information Service (ARIS)
in Uganda, which has a high-bandwidth, low-cost connection to
Infocom (ex Infomail since the merger with Starcom's Internet
service), receives requests from the ag station and helps with the
Given the ARIS status as a resource center, USAID has already
equipped their library with upper end computing equipment. They are
preparing an information management plan now, which will tell us what
new equipment they require to make sure that all corners of Uganda
are well served, likely to include the writable CD-ROM drive that you
If you have a look at our website feature article, you'll
see that this agricultural station recently sent an email to a
library in Nigeria at the International Institute for Tropical
Agriculture, the librarians there located a journal article,
compressed it, and returned it to Uganda within hours of the
request. The scientist who needed this information was
understandably quite happy.
I appreciate your constructive comment, and welcome others. It
would be particularly interesting to hear in this forum from those
who have considered the options and selected HF radio, despite the
costs. Alas, the occasionally high noise-to-signal ratio on this
list make it difficult for them to justify the cost of participation.
Perhaps others can serve as proxies for them?
Jeff @ Washington
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