Building a Community Wireless Network in rural Nigeria

Kafanchan, Nigeria 2007

Fantsuam Foundation is a non profit organization aimed at pioneering gender and youth focused on micro finance and ICT services and development in rural communities of Nigeria.

Kafanchan is a town of approx. 40,000 people located 200 km east of Abuja in central Nigeria. The area is poorly connected in terms of telephony and Internet connectivity. Today, no fix telephony is available and GSM just arrived to the town in 2005. Still now in 2007, the quality of the GSM network is low and users experience frequent cut-offs and long delays in their conversations.

Introduction

The main objective of the Community Wireless Network of Fantsuam, is to improve access to communications in Kafanchan by making it possible for institutions and organizations to have local reliable access to communications and hence, information.

The network will provide an Intranet and Internet connectivity. A local Voice-over-IP network will be deployed in order to offer a price worthy alternative to GSM for local voice conversations.

Fantsuam is currently connected to the Internet via VSAT (Ku-band). For a monthly fee of 1800 USD, a dedicated bandwidth of 128/64 kbps is obtained, a price at least 10000 times more expensive per kbps that anywhere in Europe. The Community Wireless Network will enable Fantsuam to share the connectivity, and the cost, with its local partners in Kafanchan.

The location of Kafanchan, in the last mile of rural connectivity2 also makes these partners strategic to the socio-economic development of their communities. Their access to affordable and timely information through the Fantsuam connectivity program will enhance their services and sustainability. The educational institutions and the CSOs have as part of their own sustainability strategy, plans to provide Internet access to their host communities at specific times.

Training

A set of practical and theoretical training sessions related to Wireless Communication (IEEE 802.11) was conducted to the Wireless Team of Fantsuam Foundation.

BLOCK A:

BLOCK B:


Partner Site Surveys

During two days, more than 15 potential partners were visited in Kafanchan and its surroundings. The sites were documented in terms of GSM position, line-of-sight, access to stable source of electricity and other relevant factors.

The partners that were visited included:

  • Educational institutions (Primary/Secondary schools, Colleges)
  • Faith based institutions (Churches, religious seminars)
  • Hospitals and Health Clinics
  • Local authorities (Chief's palaces)
  • Private companies and individuals

At this point, only partners located in the immediate surroundings or Kafanchan was visited since the coverage area of the tower is quite limited. To cover a larger area, including Kagoro and Kwoi, access to 2-3 of the existing (many not-in-use) communication towers in the area must be arranged.

Implementation

Communication Tower

In October 2006, a self standing tower of 45m was assembles and erected at the compound of Fantsuam Foundation. The tower was supplied with a lightening arrestor which was mounted at the top of the tower. The arrestor was connected to a copper plate that run from the arrestor to the ground where the Earthing Mart was dig down.

The tower was also equipped with two signal lights that by the help of a photocell, automatically switches on/off the lights according to the sun light. Signal lights are mandatory for all tall tower and masts.

Central Hub

During our first visit at Fantsuam, February 2007, an initial setup of the central hub of the wireless network was done. The tower was supplied with an AirPoint Nexus Pro Total access point from SmartBridges. The AirPoint Nexus Pro Total comes with a built-in multi-band (2.4GHz, 5.1-5.8 GHz) sector antenna of 12dBi gain which offers a coverage area of 90 degrees. It supports Quality of Service according to WMM which implies the possibility of traffic prioritization for voice, video and data applications.
The central hub will be equipped with another 2 AirPoint Nexis Pro Total units, in order to provide a 270 degrees coverage area.

Test links

A set of test links were set up at partners' premises to ensure a certain service level. We could quite soon conclude, that although the tower is tall (45m) all partners in Kafanchan Town (1km from Fantsuam) will not be able to be connected straight to the Fantsuam tower (central hub) since Fantsuam is located about 20-40m lower in altitude than Kafanchan Town. Also, the buildings in Kafanchan are mainly one storey buildings with limited or non line-of-sight to Fantsuam due to vegetation or other obstacles. In specific, the large and very dense mango trees blocked the sight for many partners.

To go around this problem, we decided to let one strategic partner in Kafanchan act as a wireless repeater and relay the radio signals to surrounding partners. College of Nursing, a partner located in a three storey building, was identified as a suitable candidate to act as a repeater. Not only are College of Nursing situated in one of the highest buildings in Kafanchan, they have also a flat accessible roof-top and a clear line-of-sight to Fantsuam's tower.

The image above shows a demonstration of a successful test link set up from the Throne Room to the central hub 2 km away. The pastor is pleased to see with his own eyes that Internet access will finally become a reality to their church.

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