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AFRIK-IT  May 1999

AFRIK-IT May 1999

Subject:

Short-range wireless in Northern Ghana

From:

Jeff Cochrane <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sun, 2 May 1999 22:29:29 -5

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (115 lines)

Greetings Afrik-ITes and Friends!

[MESSAGE COMPOSED IN NIGERIA, BUT EDITED A BIT AND
THEN SENT LATER FROM FRANCE.]

On the AfricaOnline home page for Ghana there's a small
advertisement for ExperTravel, with an email address.  As Ghana's
internal Fan Air flights to Tamale don't seem to appear in international
reservations systems, Mrs. Baeta of ExperTravel was kind enough to
book a seat for me.  She also found a lovely and quite inexpensive
small hotel, the Bayview, very new, just by the airport in Accra, with a
quite comfortable room and amiable staff at less than half the rate of
the resorts downtown.  The wonders of the Internet...

A further wonder: After posting my little announcement some weeks
ago here about my impending travels to Ghana, I was contacted by
Mr. Edward Addo-Dankwa of the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and
Agriculture.  He's been charged with responsibilities for coordinating
a nationwide network linking Ghana's agricultural research institutes.
We discussed a bit by email, and decided that the two of us would
travel together to Tamale to assure that the USAID/AfricaLink and
other Ministry programs were integrated smoothly.

Part of Edward's job is to manage World Bank funds for equipment
linking  the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and
the Ministry in Accra via radio (probably spread spectrum in the
2.4GHz range), then a further link to NCS, the Internet service provider
of Dr. Nii Quaynor, which has the contract for implementation of the
project. The project includes a bank of modems at CSIR enabling staff
from other institutes to dial in and join the network.  Edward is a
participant here in Afrik-IT, so perhaps he would care to share with us
more details about his various projects in Ghana.

The question of the hour was how to enable the Savannah
Agricultural Research Institute in the far north of Ghana to join this
network in Accra in the south.  Dr. A.B. Salifu leads a dynamic team of
agricultural scientists that would like to exercise a leadership role in
West African networking, particularly on cowpea and cover crop
research for animal forage and weed (striga, spear grass) control in
short- or no-fallow agroecological zones.

If SARI is to play a central role, then reliable and good quality Internet
connectivity is key.  One thought was that SARI might simply
telephone to the modem bank at CSIR in Accra, an expensive
proposition, particularly considering that SARI's telephone link even
to Tamale, 40 kilometers away, is a tenuous one.

Ghana Telecoms makes available wireless local loop (WLL)
radiophones.  These use analog technology, and work reasonably well
at SARI for voice, and perhaps 2400bps for data, enough to maintain
their basic email link through AfricaOnline's server in Tamale.  We
learned about a digital WLL phone, delivering data at speeds perhaps
as high as 33,600bps, that may be available from one of Ghana
Telecom's national competitors in a few weeks, but it's not available in
the areas of the country we need it.

The decision that SARI has to make, I think, is one of balancing cost
with performance.  Donors are generally ready to help SARI with
capital equipment purchases, but SARI must fully bear the monthly
leased line and subscription fees associated with the technology they
ultimately select. AfricaOnline has a proposal on the table to deliver
high speed (64kbps) wireless, and NCS may also wish to offer a
solution.

These solutions might leave SARI with high monthly maintenance
charges -- I'm hearing figures from $1000 to $1500 a month, depending
on configuration.  SARI could pay for this by reducing
telecommunications charges in other areas.  This raises important
management issues, in addition to the technical ones, and in my
experience the management problems almost always prove more
intractable than the technical ones.

The alternative would be to upgrade the WLL radiophone technology
to digital.  The bandwidth of the link to Tamale and the Internet would
be less, and the result would likely be less satisfying to staff, but the
solution might in the end prove more affordable given SARI's present
resources.  They'd have to convince WesTel to offer the WLL phone
in Tamale.

Edward and I retired to the Gariba Hotel, one of the newer ones in
Tamale, for a delightful evening of conversation.  We were joined by
two Peace Corps volunteers from Wa, one outgoing, the other his
replacement. They both work with the local chamber of commerce in
Wa, in part on the telecenter experiment about which I've written on a
couple of occasions in this forum.

We ordered a supper, and then discussed profound questions of
international development, of consultants who whisk around the
world in business class airplanes and stay in expensive hotels without
really understanding anything they see, of projects that at best only
speed up things Africans would have easily done for themselves and
that more often may actually slow down indigenous progress.  I'm sure
I don't know of any such consultants or projects... ;*)

We sipped cold Star under palm trees with a warm but pleasantly dry
breeze, and then went our separate ways. Edward and I took Fan Air
back to Accra -- the view is impressive from 4000 meters in a twin-prop
Beechcraft, sipping fruit juice over Lake Volta, and munching cake
while dodging thunderstorms above the hills of Aburi.

Cheers!
Jeff @ Ibadan


-----
SETA Corporation Senior Analyst
USAID/M/IRM/CIS: Program Technology Transfer
USAID/AFR/SD/PSGE: AfricaLink
[log in to unmask]
http://www.info.usaid.gov/alnk
1325 G Street NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20005 USA
Tel +1 (202) 219-0463
Fax +1 (202) 219-0518

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