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Afghans Build Open Source Internet From Trash 140

Posted by timothy
from the like-comcast-but-open-source dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Residents of Jalalabad have built the FabFi network: an open-source system that uses common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles."
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Afghans Build Open Source Internet From Trash

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  • by andreyvul (1176115) <andrey.vul@NoSPaM.gmail.com> on Sunday June 26, 2011 @02:25AM (#36574312)

    For the win. P2P win, that is.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'd have thought there would be well paid contractors over there doing that with expensive, subscription based routing equipment. :P
  • Yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Toze (1668155) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @02:36AM (#36574352)

    This is the reason I'm proud to call myself a geek. This is why I contribute to groups like EFF. This is why I tinker with networking hardware and try out Maker projects, even though I'm a software guy, and not necessarily a great one- because I'm sharing in the culture that can build a digital commons in the middle of the desert in one of the most war-torn regions of the planet using /scrap/. I mean, I'm sure Afghanistan is a great country, but the neighborhood's kinda rough- I have nothing but pride and admiration for FabFi and the people of Afghanistan.

    It's probably going to get slashdotted pretty quick, so I'm going to copypasta some of their front page stuff here, and provide some of the links from their homepage at http://fabfi.fablab.af/ [fablab.af];

    FabFi is an open-source, FabLab-grown system using common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles. With Fabfi, communities can build their own wireless networks to gain high-speed internet connectivity---thus enabling them to access online educational, medical, and other resources.

    In the summer of 2010, the Fab team set out to show that Fabfi could be both reliable and sustainable. Choosing Kenya as a pilot site Fabfolk seeded three Fablab students with the hardware to begin deploying a network as a community-operated business.

    FabFi is a user-extensible long range point-to-point and mesh hybrid-wireless broadband transmission infrastructure. It is based on the simple idea that a network of simple, intelligent, interconnected devices can create reliable networks in unstable environments. We use simple physics to make low-cost devices communicate directionally for very long distances (physics is cool!), and flexible configurations to adapt to a large variety of conditions.

    They build their own parabolic dishes to increase antenna gain, much like the coffee-cantennas, wok-antennas, and pringles-cantennas we've all heard of.

    Their blog is at http://fabfiblog.fabfolk.com/ [fabfolk.com]
    Their Facebook page is at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=140474289914 [facebook.com]

    • by pnot (96038)

      I like the details on materials for the parabolic reflectors: "Reflective surface materials included chicken wire, woven stainless steel mesh and window screen." -- now *that's* what I call a mesh network!

    • Re:Yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wgoodman (1109297) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @04:21AM (#36574668)

      If you were concerned about them getting slashdotted, why not provide a mirror link: http://fabfi.fablab.af.nyud.net/ [nyud.net] instead of being the first person to post their actual page?

      • by Toze (1668155)
        Because I am not a clever man. ;P Honestly, I thought of it, but the only mirror I could think of was archive.org, and they didn't have it. Thanks for linking it.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Me, too. I like taking broken computers that people are ready to throw away and build new ones out of the parts, and give them to poor folks (especially old poor folks). And there seem to be a hell of a lot more poor folks than there were ten years ago. I urge all my fellow nerds and hardware hackers to do the same.

      • by Toze (1668155)
        Woot! I do the same. I'm in the middle of setting up a "build-your-own" training project with Big Brothers/Sisters in my town, getting low-income youth some practical skills and hardware they might not otherwise have access to. High-income families and businesses will replace their computers every 3-5 years or so; those systems have a working life of over a decade, so why not get them into the hands of people that can use them? Most folks are pretty happy to have somewhere to contribute their old systems af
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Best Buy might come a calling with a lawsuit.

  • by denzacar (181829) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @02:38AM (#36574358) Journal

    ...if they are using any pre-Taliban C-64s in their setup, and if Junis is involved?

  • Semantics maybe... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by EricX2 (670266)

    They made a WAN using wireless technology. Big fucking deal. And don't say that 'they are in a third world country so it's a big deal'. It isn't about money when it comes to technology, it is about brains, it doesn't always require money to be smart. I'm sure everybody I know makes more money than most people in Afghanistan and not a single one of them could do this, so money makes people dumb as far as I can tell.

    When are people going to realize that making a big deal about what country a person is from wh

    • ... I'm sure everybody I know makes more money than most people in Afghanistan and not a single one of them could do this, so money makes people dumb as far as I can tell.

      Don't be that so harsh on the First World people, they have their own share of problems. [reddit.com]

    • I'm sure the people in Afghanistan have access to the same education as the people in California...
      • by smash (1351)
        Education doesn't make you smart. It makes you better educated, but the drive and lateral thinking has very little to do with formal training.
        • You do realize you're talking about Afghanistan, right? Where "formal" education is probably (barely) equivalent to highschool in a western country?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2011 @03:12AM (#36574452)

      I respect the Afghan ingenuity. It might be in some future point and time that the combination of laws (broadcast copyrights to lock down the public domain, ACTA, son-of-ACTA, COICA, etc.) combined with ISP interest in trying to make a buck from anything, and the fact that it will be easy for people to become persona non grats (and denied access to the Internet) will end up forcing people in the US to do exactly what is being done overseas.

      Want to watch that YouTube video without paying your ISP for a "non premium visited site" fee, a streaming video fee, a fee per second, etc? The Afghan system may be the only way for you to see it, or any content not sanitized and sterilized by Big Media.

      It might be that the *only* thing that will stop the Internet becoming like Compuserve (or more accurately Prodigy because Prodigy required each post to be reviewed and pass a censor before being able to be read) would be technology like this.

      Plus, LAN stuff is cheap. A wireless router for a subnet is dirt cheap. Wi-Fi is quite inexpensive compared to WAN stuff.

      If people started adding point to point links coupled with caching and other techniques to keep as much traffic on the LAN as possible, we (as in people who want to use the Internet for more than a passive TV and want content other than what Fox News wants to present us), this is something we really need here in the US as well.

      Of course, latency will be hell and gone, but that's better than no connection at all.

      • by erroneus (253617)

        While I agree that in principle we may ALREADY need this, any attempt to set up such networks will result in big business taking the matter to court. People must pay for their internet service... and it must be through one of them. Somehow, they is law.

      • ...we (as in people who want to use the Internet for more than a passive TV and want content other than what Fox News, NBC, CNN and all the other shills wants to present us), this is something we really need here in the US as well.

        There, fixed that for you.

      • by ArcCoyote (634356)

        If we need some kind of darknet, we don't need to build a mesh network to get it. We can just run some sort of VPN tunnel over existing broadband. Hell, we've already got TOR.

        This kind of thing is for where there is no infrastructure.

        What would you rather do: tunnel your stuff over fast, reliable broadband, where no one notices (and can't read it if they can, it's encrypted) or stick a BFD on your roof that everyone can see and eavesdrop on. (You'd probably run it in the clear... WPA doesn't support Ad-Hoc,

      • by Raenex (947668)

        Want to watch that YouTube video without paying your ISP for a "non premium visited site" fee, a streaming video fee, a fee per second, etc? The Afghan system may be the only way for you to see it, or any content not sanitized and sterilized by Big Media.

        Good luck hooking up your homegrown Wi-Fi network to a backbone. How are you supposed to get to YouTube if ISPs won't talk to you?

      • by zmollusc (763634)

        I have been thinking on similar lines. I call it The Alternet.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Wow, buddy, you're so ignorant (OK, or just uninformed, in that case sorry), you're not even worth getting angry about. Cause that's just sad.

      Imagine growing up in a small town, where having a wire out of the wall to connect your radio to, and a water wheel in the small creek outside generating the electricity, is considered a luxury. With lots of space for few people.
      Your dad died when you were very young. And all that he left you, was his AK-47. And although that may be a lie, you love that gun more than

    • by bjs555 (889176)

      Good post. But, to play devil's advocate, the first homo sapiens 200,000 years ago had practically the same genes as anybody today. What they lacked was a culture that understood today's technology and could pass it on to offspring. 200,000 years of biological evolution produces little change. 200,000 years of cultural evolution produces revolutionary advancement. People from different countries differ little biologically but can differ greatly culturally. It seems to me that a culture that emphasizes educa

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        I think you underestimate biological evolutions some. 200,000 years ago dogs didn't exists, now they range from chihuahuas to great danes. 6,000 years ago when agriculture started we started bonding to cats. Why dos a cat's purr evoke positive emotions in humans? Both species must have evolved in the last 6,000 years.

        As to "having practically the same genes", chimpanzees share 95% of our genes.

        • by aywang31 (2078102)
          I thought god just made us that way 8000 years ago.
          • The standard creationist figure is 6000 years. Some medieval monk counted the generations from Adam to Noah, Noah to David and David to Jesus, multiplied them by the average age of reproduction... came up with the figure of 4004BCs. Modern creationists still use the number because... why not? It's as good a guess as any. Accuracy in math has never been one of their major concerns.
        • Ah yes, the "dogs are different, so it's not racist to say that humans are different too".

          Except that we have specifically selectively bred dogs for attributes that we as a culture valued. We bred them to specialise them to different tasks. Corgis are small, fast, with sharp teeth and a tendency to bite and not let go because we specifically bred that into them so they would catch rats. Labradors can carry unbroken eggs in their mouths because we bred them as hunting dogs. Intensively. And in particula

        • by mckorr (1274964)
          Dogs, and indeed most domesticated species, are poor examples to use for evolution. They have been selectively breed by humans to enhance or eliminate various traits. Dogs didn't evolve, they were created. Same thing for cats: they have been selectively breeding humans for 6000 or so years....
          • by chill (34294)

            That isn't "creating", that is guided evolution. It proves that traits *can* change over time just thru breeding.

            Human evolution is the same process, just without the guided hand of the breeder. Combine that with our significantly longer lifespans by comparison and you do have a viable example of evolution.

            "Creating" would be manual gene splicing, or building up DNA sequences directly, without natural reproduction occuring.

          • Difference is that most Dogs are useful while I don't know if cats have served any relevant porpoise across the history of mankind, I mean real usefulness: eg Dogs can rescue people under debris and detect bombs. Anyone have more insight?

          • Same thing for cats: they have been selectively breeding humans for 6000 or so years....

            Your cats selected your mate for you as well, eh?

            Worked out fine for me. Not sure what traits they're breeding us for, though.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I think you completely missed his point, which was that those of us with brains and know-how are helping make people's lives better no matter how rich or poor they are, or where they live..

    • by Targon (17348)

      Really, we are all exact duplicates of each other? When you are faced with shortages of equipment or supplies, the intelligent people will take the knowledge out there and use it to address shortages, but to say that all humans have the same genes is as ignorant as you can possibly get. There is a HUGE variation in the human species, and yes, there are some people who are so intelligent it can seem scary to those who are considered intelligent by most people, but there are also those who are criminall

    • by ArcCoyote (634356)

      Well, IMHO, the integral reflector and mount is a pretty cool, inexpensive idea.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      so money makes people dumb as far as I can tell

      Afghanistan has an estimated 28% adult literacy rate, as opposed to a close to 100% literacy rate in the developed world. The vast majority of Afghans can't even spell their own fucking names, and have never (and will never) read a book in their lives.

      So your statement is dumb, as far as I can tell.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @02:58AM (#36574406) Homepage Journal

    In the US, we do the opposite: take the Internet and make it INTO trash.

    • by toygeek (473120)

      In War Torn Afghanistan, we go looking for the Internet

      In First World America, the Internet comes looking for YOU!

  • by Osgeld (1900440)

    They totally discovered radio!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Nice sensationalist headline, with a summary that contradicts it.

  • This guy lugs his desktop around: How to publish a Hindu newspaper in Pakistan [boingboing.net]

    Well okay its Pakistan, not Afghanistan, but I suspect the poorer parts of both countries have similar challenges.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Thirty years ago a "portable" was bigger and heavier than today's desktop.

      • by kent_eh (543303)
        I used to have to drag one of these [oldcomputers.net] around for work. And I was mightily envied by the other geeks of the time.
  • by istartedi (132515) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @04:03AM (#36574598) Journal

    Junis, is that you? Shades of 2001. [slashdot.org]

  • Yet, in Afghanistan, the authorities REFUSED that OLPC are equipped with WiFi connection, refusing kids a free access to the Internet, base on the false pretext of the dangerousness of its content for kids.
  • by retroworks (652802) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:17AM (#36575388) Homepage Journal

    This kind of "good enough" tech, also seen in the Arab Spring internet cafes, depends on access to used, refurbished, and re-marketed electronics cast offs. A new bill just submitted to Congress (Green-Thompson) will ban trade with these "geeks of color". Do-gooders say that American jobs will result (Americans will begin using "trash" to make our own internet), and the geeks in the emerging markets, freed from the "ewaste" exploitation, will then leapfrog into 4G.

    As a former Peace Corps volunteer, nothing makes me happier than to see kids who studied technology textbooks use the schematics to increase internet. Geeks of Color Entrepreneurs need SBA more than they need AID.

  • You thought Afghanistan had social problems before? Now, without the benevolent oversight of the copyright holders, the Afghans will be filesharing like crazy, thus causing their entire country to collapse and the birth rate and life expectancy to plummet. Buildings will crumble into rubble, roads will take you to the wrong destination etc.

  • I have yet to see fully functional wifi routers in the trash around here.

    • We get them at our recycling plant on a regular basis. Sometimes working, sometimes they need a tweak. Often the best fix is to put the circuit board in an oven, or in the sun, and a tiny hairline crack in solder somewhere gets fixed. Currently, we export 22% of the used electronics we receive (78% are not worth exporting even if they worked). That export to geeks of color is being made illegal, since people assume that anyone exporting 22% must really be dumping 100%.
      • I usually use a blowtorch. Wave it slowly over the solder side of the PCB. All the solder gets melted, and quickly resolidifies, thus fixing hairline cracks and bad joints.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I picked two modems up that were going to be thrown out. WAG-54Gs. They had only one thing wrong with them - bad caps. Didn't take long to fix that, and the repaired one has lasted me for two years so far.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm not really that impressed. If you RTFA, the only thing they are building from scrap are the reflectors/antennas. Hell, I know a bunch of people who did similar crap with pringels cans and clothes hangers.

  • Uhm, aren't those case-hardened OLPC laptops supposed to be for the poor, deprived kids? I hope this guy [slashdot.org] is helping his son (I suppose daughter not likely) do his homework?

    If not, it appears the OLPC theft problem [laptop.org] has not been solved.

    Then again, maybe we (via Nicholas and his brother John [wikipedia.org]) meant to supply Afgan insurgents with an insecure means of communication?

    Preposterous, I'm sure!

    • Sorry, that first link pasted in wrong, should be http://fabfi.fablab.af/ [fablab.af]>
    • Btw, I don't see any little kids hanging around in that pic! Looks like serious stuff on screen. Heroin harvest accounting? Munitions supplies? Plans for improvised devices? Ahh, probably just a YouTube cat video!
      • by kokoko1 (833247)
        Yes and not even showing Afghans freedom fighters beating on US marines asses like a rented mule.
    • Uhm, aren't those case-hardened OLPC laptops supposed to be for the poor, deprived kids?

      It's a poor, deprived country. Internet deprived that is. A country contains lots of kids, so by extension this is to help poor, deprived kids.

  • This entire project will fall by the wayside in America because it's not wrapped up in pretty little buzzwords and it's not backed by grinning suits. I swear that the entire country is suffering Stockholm Syndrome as far as internet access is concerned.
    • Well, when you are living in a country where the people in charge would disappear your ass for having internet access, those people are still are still around, and may return to their leadership positions, I think a little hesitation is understandable.
  • If they create their own internet in a war torn country, what's our excuse?

    We've already got one.
    - Are you sure you've got one?
    Oh yes, it's very nice!

  • Wait, which "National Science Foundation" gave them a grant for this? The U.S. one? Anyone else a little confused by that?

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