Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Dili Village Telco

David Rowe and Lemi Soares

A Village Telco is a DIY telephone company that uses mesh Wifi and VOIP to build telephone networks without infrastructure like cell phone towers or land lines. The goal of the Village Telco project is to provide affordable telephony for people in the developing world. It is built entirely with open software and hardware.

The Dili Village Telco is the world's first roll out of Village Telco technology. We are deploying 100 Mesh Potatoes to implement a free local call telephone network in Dili, the capital city of Timor Leste, one of the poorest countries in Asia. Mobile and fixed phone service is available in Dili but simply too expensive for the average Timorese.

A Village Telco is built from low cost, rugged Wifi telephony devices called Mesh Potatoes. Each Mesh Potato provides a single fixed telephone line to the end user, and is connected to other Mesh Potatoes via a mesh Wifi network. Mesh Potatoes are robust to developing world environmental conditions (e.g. accidental abuse, weather, static damage, poor electricity supply) and are designed for low power consumption.

The Mesh Potato is an "open hardware" design and runs Linux and other open source software. The Village Telco team designed the Mesh Potato specifically for our needs - custom, open, hardware for the developing world.

The Dili Village Telco project is gathering important technical, social, and business model data for the Village Telco. This project is being support by ISIF and ISOC grants and Atcom, who have manufactured a special batch of Mesh Potatoes for this project.

In this presentation we will talk about the roll out - what went right with technology and more importantly what went wrong! We will also present the social and business outcomes - i.e. how did this project change peoples lives and how can we make Village Telco networks sustainable businesses for local people in the developing world.