Smart mobs on the high slopes of Nepal
February 27th, 2009

Below is a portion of an article Nepal: Wireless in the Mountains that tells how the internet has been brought to remote mountain villages. One man, with the help of volunteers, is essentially responsible. He is Mahabir Pun, a former teacher from the village of Nangi. There are more details in the article; this is the essence:

With no telephone line, no way of funding a satellite phone link, and with the country in the grip of insurgency, Mahabir realized that to bring 21st-century communications facilities to his village, he would have to leapfrog the conventional technology route. In 2001 he wrote to a BBC radio show asking for help in using the recently developed home-WiFi technology to connect his village to the internet. Intrigued listeners emailed with advice and offers of assistance.

Backpacking volunteers from around the world smuggled in wireless equipment from the US and Britain after the Nepalese government banned its import and use during the insurgency, and suspicious Maoist rebels tried to destroy it. By 2003, with all the parts in place, Mahabir had linked Nangi to its nearest neighbour, Ramche, installed a solar-powered relay station (TV antennae fixed to a tall tree on a mountain peak) and from there sent the signal more than 20 kilometers away to Pokhara, which had a cable-optic connection to Kathmandu, the capital. Nangi was online.

Mahabir says he used a home WiFi kit from America that was recommended for use within a radius of 4 meters. “I emailed the company and told them that I had done 22 kilometers with it,” he says. “I was hoping they might donate some equipment — but they didn’t believe what I told them.”

More than 40 other remote mountain villages (60,000 people) have now been networked and connected to the internet by Mahabir and his stream of enthusiastic volunteers, and many more are in the pipeline. The villagers are now able to communicate with people in other villages and even with their family members abroad by email and using VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phones, he says. Using the local VOIP system, they can talk for free within the village network. . . .

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