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Businesses Networking Power Wireless Networking

The Go-Anywhere Cyber Cafe In a Shipping Container 145

nk497 writes "UK IT charity Computer AID has come up with a clever idea to use shipping containers to house thin-client-based, solar-powered cyber cafes, which can be used to bring connectivity to rural communities in Africa. The £20,000 boxes use a single Pentium 4 PC split out using thin client devices to offer computing to 10 people via local wireless access or mobile broadband. The solar power created from a single panel is enough to power the PC, 10 monitors, lighting, and also to charge mobile phones. Computer Aid founder Tony Roberts notes, 'The power of this idea is that we can drop that container anywhere in the world, literally in the middle of the Sahara desert.'"
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The Go-Anywhere Cyber Cafe In a Shipping Container

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  • Convenient (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @07:18PM (#32300606)

    They make everything in convenient container sizes now:

    - servers
    - internet cafes
    - anti-ship missiles
    - nuclear reactors
    - nuclear bombs

    Shipping containers are the "in" thing to do nowadays.

  • Re:Pentium 4? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @07:24PM (#32300680)

    Really?? How about using a single 12-core processor from AMD. But then that only uses 80W or so on average. Considering you can get that system for $1000 + RAM + HD, looks significantly cheaper than using P4.

    At that point all you need is a cheap ass switch and you can *easily* handle 15 thin clients. Thin clients running ARM processors and energy efficient solar panels would be best.

  • Re:that much!? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara@hudson.barbara-hudson@com> on Friday May 21, 2010 @07:50PM (#32300938) Journal

    A good router can cost $20,000 by itself.

    For a maximum of 10 people? $100 will do you fine.

    HVAC systems,

    It's a P4 - you know, the type of computer that people are giving away because they're pretty lousy in terms of performance and electrical consumption per bogomip.

    Most of the shipping container is taken up with chairs and two counters for the keyboards and thin-client monitors. It would be a lot cheaper to just send a server, a wireless router, and the thin clients on a palette, and set up a solar-powered charging station.

    The shipping container is going to be too damn hot to sit in, even with a door and a window or two.

  • by terminak ( 1817050 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:54PM (#32301444)

    I worked for an NGO in Cambodia ( that implemented a similar program with thin clients powered by solar panels, but without the cargo container.

    The program saw these thin clients installed within high school computer rooms, and had the simple goal of teaching office skills to impoverished high school children. Prior, we had a dozen or so standard computer labs that had endless issues with maintenance, misuse (video games, vcds, etc) and the expense of electricity. Thin clients ended up being way easier all around. Prior to getting USAID funding, we were sourcing them directly from a Chinese vendor. [] - A video of one of our first labs being opened and an overview of the idea. I believe there are about 20 of these labs now.

    One of the issues we found with solar panels and the battery banks was the misuse of electricity perceived as "free". Charging mobile phones using high-end solar panel batteries was an issue, especially when our networking equipment was unplugged to allow for more charging devices.

  • by joelsanda ( 619660 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:59PM (#32301480) Homepage
    I can't, for the life of me, imagine why Africa needs cyber cafes. In all seriousness ... there aren't internet cafes in rural Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah or Idaho - places I drive through or hike in. Do those folks want internet cafes? Can you order something from Amazon and have it delivered there? If they go to news sites all they see is how bad their continent is compared to the rest of the world, at least if the BBC, Reuters, CNN, etc ... have anything to say on that.
  • Re:Cargo cult (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:10PM (#32301518) Homepage

    Seriously, though - why are these people so intent on providing Internet access to countries and people that need many more basic things in life first

    What does it matter to you? It's their charity, their money, and therefore their decision about what they want to do. If you think people need something else more, start your own damn charity.

  • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:20PM (#32301594) Journal

    Internet access [] helps alleviate poverty in the same way that cell phones: [] by removing intermediaries and giving farmers access to up-to-date pricing information and buyers.

    This is what that "internet access" (which was actually a broker and micro-loan program) did: [] []

    The epilogue to this project is not good. One year after the follow-up data were
    collected, the exporter refused to continue buying the crops from DrumNet farmers since
    none of the SHGs had obtained EurepGap certification. DrumNet lost money on its loan
    to the farmers and collapsed, but equally importantly farmers were forced to sell to
    middlemen, sometimes leaving a harvest to rot. As reported to us by DrumNet, the
    farmers were outraged but powerless, and subsequently returned to growing what they
    had been growing before (e.g., local crops such as maize).

    As for the "cell phones" link, you don't have to go farther than the article itself:

    Most of these unconnected masses live in rural areas that are much poorer and more remote than Muruguru.
    Now cell-phone makers and service providers understand that they can make money by bringing cell-phone service within reach of people who live on $2 a day.
    Users buy new phones for as little as $20--and secondhand models for far less--as well as airtime in increments of just 75 cents in Kenya, enough for nearly 10 minutes of off-peak calling.
    They increased their profits by an average of 8% after they began using mobile phones to find out which coastal marketplaces were offering the best prices for sardines. Yet consumer prices for fish dropped 4% because the fishermen no longer had to throw away the catch they couldn't sell when they sailed into a port after all the buyers had left.
    "That's what economic efficiencies are about--everyone is better off," says Jensen.

    It is simply wonderful seeing such selective blindness.

    A mobile phone costs as little as 1000% of your daily costs.
    10 minutes (charged by a minute, so that is less than 10 calls) of mobile-credit costs you 37.5% of your daily costs.
    And to even that out, your income has increased by 8%.

    So, on average, that one 10-minute charge eats up that 8% increase in profit five out of seven days a weak.
    But all is not so dark and dreary - if they work 7 days a weak, they will earn 0.32$ of extra profit each weak.
    That way, they get to pay off that 20$ phone of theirs in only 1.2 years. Not accounting for interests.

    After that - the sky is the limit!

    Sure. For some people in developing nations mobile phones are providing A phone for the first time.
    For some even a way of long distance communication of any kind for the first time.
    And there are bound to be benefits from that as well as some measurable increases of quality of life.

    But attaching the "it alleviates poverty" label on the mobile phone is way off the target.
    Only people whose poverty is alleviated are mobile-phone merchants and local telecommunication companies (that practice the best kinds of monopolies - uncontrolled and rampant).
    For a "regular Joe" they are more of a resource drain than a "poverty alleviation".

  • by thaig ( 415462 ) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @03:45AM (#32303574) Homepage

    There are a lot of people to cure or help and no money to cure them with. Hence it's much more important to invest in wealth creation than charity.

    I've seen your proposed way of doing things and it didn't work well for us:

    A Zimbabwean.

  • Re:Cargo cult (Score:2, Interesting)

    by troll8901 ( 1397145 ) * <> on Saturday May 22, 2010 @06:05AM (#32304108) Journal

    which is stricken not only by poverty but also AIDS ... a good 20% of their population is AIDs positive.

    Well said. Considering the widespread belief that raping a virgin girl will cure a man of AIDS [], I believe we have more basic issues to resolve.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"