WiFi and Satellite Internet

WiFi Satellite Internet

WiFi combined with satellite based Internet access is very common in developing countries where it isn’t practical to run wire or fiber optic lines to homes and business. Even when wire lines do exist, the only option available is slow dialup Internet access requring customers to pay for a local telephone line plus the ISP for a slow service that is only usable for basic web browsing or email. Also, the local telecom infrastructure is usually not engineered for data communications and users constantly dropped connections and busy signals when dialing the ISP.

Even where institutions and individuals have Internet access, the connection often has little practical value for more than a few elite users. Our tests of actual Internet speeds indicate that, while users at large European or American universities enjoy Internet connections which deliver 17 million bits per second, users at African institutions operate at speeds that are 500 to 600 times slower (~30 thousand bits per second). We also routinely test hundreds of Internet servers at African institutions and find that the typical server is online only about six hours per day and has frequent disconnects lasting days or weeks. As a result, it is impractical for instructors at these institutions to require students to discover information on the Internet. Also, these instructors rarely use resources like video, audio and multimedia tutorials because downloading these items is expensive, slow and unreliable. [World Health Organization]

WiFi Community Networks

By combining low cost commodity WiFi hardware satellite Internet connections very large community networks can be built without any special tools or heavy equipment that would normally be required to connect users via wires or fiber optic cable. Once enough users are connected together via an 802.11 network the cost of a satellite dish, installation, and recurring free can be shared by the community or provided by a local business acting as the ISP.

Dedicated Satellite Bandwidth vs. Usage Based Internet Access

Dedicated satellite Internet links are still very costly in most developing countries, especially those in sub-Sahara Africa (see above). Even 128/64 kbps links that may seem slow to many Internet users with premium broadband services are priced so high that most communities and ISPs cannot afford them.

The costs of Internet connectivity in Africa can be hundreds of times higher than those in Europe or the United States of America. For “free” information on the Internet, institutions in developing countries must often buy larger-capacity connections than they can realistically afford. For example, some universities in Africa are spending as much as the equivalent of 20 full-time faculty salaries for a 2-megabit Internet connection that is then distributed to 500 to 600 computers, resulting in a costly and painfully slow connection for everyone.
[World Health Organization]

A more practical approach is to get service from a usage based satellite provider that provides tiered pricing so that as the community network expands or contracts the cost of accessing Internet can be adjusted. Another benefit of a usage based satellite Internet provider is that they usually support higher burstable speeds which is beneficial when using interactive applications like VoIP or interactive video.

Grid Power vs. Solar Powered WiFi

Another issue in developing countries is the lack of reliable and clean power. To overcome this hurdle most community networks power the WiFi satellite Internet system with a hybrid solution combining the local grid power, solar panels, and batteries.