[Freedombox-discuss] Low Cost Community Wi-Fi Networks

Sunil Mohan Adapa sunil at medhas.org
Wed Mar 1 15:28:36 UTC 2017


I recently had an opportunity to work with an team on setting up a low
cost community Wi-Fi network in a village nearby here in India.  I wrote
an article about it.  It is attached.

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                           Sunil Mohan Adapa

                            <2017-02-25 Sat>

Table of Contents

1 Introduction
2 Team
3 Effort
4 Technology Used
5 Support Structure
6 Conclusion
7 Some Statistics
8 Future Work
9 About FreedomBox
10 About Swecha

1 Introduction

  Wi-Fi services have been launched on 18th February 2017 in the model
  village of Gangadevipally in Telengana, India.  This is the
  culmination of several months of effort by the voluntary organization
  Swecha and developers of the FreedomBox project.  The network has been
  designed and implemented with the help of volunteers from various
  local engineering colleges.

  People of the village can enjoy free Wi-Fi to access the Internet.
  This will allow them to perform electronic transactions, get market
  information and view educational videos.  They will also be able to
  make audio calls to each other on smart phones without any cost using
  this infrastructure.  Educational materials such as training videos on
  competitive exams, vocational training, specialized techniques
  etc. will be made available using another service called Digital
  Library that is now made available.

  The entire implementation was done at a very low cost of 75,000
  rupees.  Although, this was done using donations from individuals, the
  entire network is owned and operated by the Panchayat, the local
  governance body.  The entire 1km length and 200m width of the village
  is covered with 31 separate access points to provide strong coverage.
  Internet connection from an ISP available in an neighboring village
  has been made available in this village by a 2.6km radio link.  The
  Internet connection is paid for by the Panchayat.

  Swecha acts as a technology partner to maintain and further develop
  the network.  These services are made possible by a home server
  technology called FreedomBox.  The team intends to explore the use of
  the networks for further services such as tele-medicine.  They will
  also help the villagers learn how to use a smart phone for various
  day-to-day needs and for the benefit of their work.  They hope to take
  this model to many more villages by engaging the talented youth
  available in local engineering colleges.

2 Team

  The team consisted of members of Swecha, 10-15 volunteers organized by
  Swecha who are mostly students from nearby engineering colleges and
  developers of the FreedomBox project.

3 Effort

  The work involved some research, testings and some trail and error and
  was done over period 3 months.  Four separate trips each for a
  duration of 2 to 3 days were made to get the setup work done.  Away
  from the village, in a Swecha center, about 2 to 3 weeks of work was
  done for extensive testing, configuring and other preparatory work.
  The next such installation for another village is expected to take
  significantly less effort.

4 Technology Used

  - Server Hardware: A single board computer with low power requirements
    known as Olimex OlinuXino Lime 2 with a dual core ARMv7 processor, 1
    GB RAM, 1 Gbps LAN acts as the central server.

  - Server Software: FreedomBox is the Debian GNU/Linux based software
    stack the runs on the single board computer.  It provides an easy to
    manage user interface for installing, configuring and managing
    various services.  It also provides automatic firewall management,
    automatic security upgrades and monitoring options.

  - Wi-Fi Antennae: Low cost Wi-Fi routers based on Binatone WR1500N.
    These were customized for use in villages by Delhi based supplier.
    These routers work using 802.11n standard in 2.4 GHz frequency band.
    The antenna in the routers is a patch antenna that provides a
    focused beam spanning 45 to 90 degrees horizontally.  The routers
    come with Power-over-Ethernet capability and weather-proof casing.
    The firmware running on these devices is free and open source
    software: OpenWrt.  This allows extensibility, advanced monitoring
    and management capabilities.

  - Wi-Fi Towers: Custom designed metal pole base act as basis for
    mounting the Wi-Fi access points.  Each of these metal poles provide
    a solid foundation structure to erect the pole, extension arms for
    holding 6 Wi-Fi access points, and a weather proof box for holding
    an Ethernet hub and power supply for the access points.

  - Back-haul: A mix of 100 Mbps Ethernet and 100 Mbps optic fibre
    connection acts as backhaul to connect various access points.

  - Internet Radio Link: Two outdoor Wi-Fi routers with a long range
    dish antennae were used to connect the village to the neighboring
    village.  These routers operate using the 802.11n standard in the 5
    GHz frequency band.

  - VOIP Software: To allow free voice calls across the village.  A free
    software VOIP server known as repro was setup on FreedomBox.  It
    uses the SIP protocol for communication.  On the client side,
    another free software program built for the Android operating system
    know as CSipSimple was used.

  - Community Radio: A free software audio streaming application known
    as Ampache was setup on FreedomBox.  On the client side free
    software mobile applications for Android were installed on users'
    smart phones.  These are Power Amdroid and Amdroid.

  - Digital Library: To allow people of the village to download videos,
    books and other information from the server, NextCloud, another free
    software server was made available on FreedomBox.  Android
    application for NextCloud acts as client on villagers' phones for
    accessing and uploading new content.

  - Service Monitoring: To respond to service outages and help with
    maintanence basic anonymized usage statistics are being collected
    using additional free software such as collectd, graphite and

5 Support Structure

  A three level support structure was put into place for maintenance and
  further improvement of the network.  First team consists of four
  villagers with basic understanding of technology.  This team is
  elected by the village and is responsible for account management,
  dealing with Internet connection account, ensuring power supply,
  physical care for the structures, reporting outage and collecting

  Second team consists of engineering students who are volunteers from
  nearby town.  This team has the understanding to setting up Wi-Fi
  networks for a village.  They are responsible for maintenance of the
  network such as replacing broken hardware and fixing server software

  Third team consists of developers of the FreedomBox project and the
  team at Swecha.  This team is responsible for fixing software bugs and
  development of further services.

  Teams shall be notified of service outages using a monitoring system
  setup on the FreedomBox device.  Data such as server load,
  availability of Internet connection and anonymized usage statistics
  are collected by a server outside of the village until the system is
  deemed stable for intra-village management.

6 Conclusion

  Setting up community Wi-Fi networks for a fraction of typical cost is
  possible.  Additional services such as free VOIP, audio streaming and
  file sharing also becomes possible with a community model.

  This model of community network establishes an alternative method of
  providing free internet access to rural population of India and
  bridging the digital divide.  It also disproves the argument that Net
  Neutrality has to be violated by telecommunications providers,
  internet service providers or internet giants to achieve this goal.

  It goes on to show that for the price of 2 months of mobile network
  subscription paid by villagers, they can setup their own internet
  infrastructure.  They can also get the internet connection at a less
  than one tenth the cost of the mobile internet connections.

  The community model ensures that even people who can't effort a mobile
  connection or mobile internet connection can get free internet access
  on their smart phone.  This ensures that economic inequalities does
  not result in digital divide.

  Networks owned by communities have a better opportunity to resist
  censorship, avoid mass surveillance and protect privacy and digital
  rights of users.

7 Some Statistics

  - The population of the village: about 1000

  - Estimated number of smart phone users in the village: 150-200

  - Smart phones registered for VOIP usage: nearly 110

  - Typical number of devices connected to the Wi-Fi network: 30-40

  - Internet connection bandwidth: 8 Mbps

  - Data usage per month: 50+ GiB

8 Future Work

  Swecha and the FreedomBox project intend to take this model to many
  more villages with the help of volunteers from Swecha mostly from
  engineering colleges.  More importantly, extensive documentation on
  helping people setup their own networks is being prepared.  There are
  also plans to organize workshops for people indenting to setup their
  own lost-cost Wi-Fi networks and services in their own communities.

9 About FreedomBox

  "We're building software for smart devices whose engineered purpose is
  to work together to facilitate free communication among people, safely
  and securely, beyond the ambition of the strongest power to penetrate.
  They can make freedom of thought and information a permanent,
  ineradicable feature of the net that holds our souls."

  -- Eben Moglen

  FreedomBox is a 100% free software server to deploy social
  applications on small machines.  It provides online communication
  tools respecting privacy and data ownership.  FreedomBox can be used
  at home to replace services provided by third-parties mining people's
  life and using their content.  Thanks to a very friendly interface,
  one will be able to deploy on-demand applications focusing on
  confidentiality such as file sharing, shared calendaring, instant
  messaging, secure voice conference calling, blog and wiki.  FreedomBox
  is a free software stack, a subset of the Debian universal operating
  system, that can be installed in many flavors of inexpensive and
  power-efficient Open Source hardware, called single board computers
  (SBC). Once installed on the hardware of choice, the simplicity of
  setting up and operating a FreedomBox is similar to that of a smart


10 About Swecha

  Swecha was founded in 2005 as an organisation to support the Swecha
  project, it is now a vibrant community of software users, students,
  academicians and software professionals/developers determined to
  provide quality software built on the guidelines of free software
  development model.  Swecha aims at providing global software solutions
  to the local people with the Free Software development model by
  working together with the community of developers and users all over.


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