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A student sent a question to me recently, and I thought it would be of general interest:
 
Andrew asks:
 
> I hear about packet radio as an alternative to costly Internet hook up
 
Mostly used by aid organizations in remote places, e.g. rural Burundi by the World Food Program.
VITA (Volunteers in Technical Assistance) has info.  See http://www.vita.org/comm/comm.html.  The
Healthnet project of Satelife has also experimented with this and with satellite technologies. See
http://www.healthnet.org/.  (For those without direct web access, write and I'll tell you how to
snag web pages with an email command.)
 
I'm still not sure how useful packet radio will be beyond these special settings like hospitals or
disaster relief where the value of information is seen as especially high and the availability of
resources tends also to be high.  Even in the case of Healthnet, by the way, I'm told they mostly
rely on telephone connections rather than radio.  I hear radio was used during the Ebola crisis in
Zaire.
 
Which raises this issue -- radio for this purpose is seen by some as something of an interim
technology while we wait for the telephone network to spread.  First, I'm not sure the regular
telephone network will spread the way it did in America.  Keep your eye on Motorola... Second,
providing Internet access to a rural primary school doesn't seem to attract the same level of
concentrated interest as a hospital or a famine relief effort.  Nonetheless, I'm hoping to push a
few radio experiments as pilot projects to help us flesh out some of the organizational and
sustainability issues.
 
By the way, packet radio isn't as exotic an idea as some people think. That technology is
surprisingly (to me at least) popular in North America. Check out
http://hydra.carleton.ca/start.html.  That's the Ottawa Packet Radio Club.  I've been keeping in
the back of my mind for a couple of years now the idea that we might get some packet radio
hobbiests to join the Peace Corps (or VSO, or CUSO, etc.)
 
I notice the Ottowa group's homepage is on the computer at Carleton.  At the same Carleton is the
retired professor project, which links retired profs to colleges around the world by email and
other technologies.  Now, if we could just get the two groups together...
 
Cheers!
Jeff @ Washington, DC USA
 
AfricaLink (Opinions expressed are solely the author's.)
http://www.info.usaid.gov/alnk
Tel 1-703-235-5415