Afghani city builds its own internet

Posted by Emma Woollacott

With internet censorship sweeping the globe, one group in Afghanistan has the answer - build your own from cheap parts and trash.

With a little outside funding from the US National Science Foundation and help from MIT's Fab Lab, a group of Jalalabad residents has used off-the-shelf electronics and scrap parts to create a wireless ethernet network that can transmit across several miles. It now covers most of the city.

"The system works consistently through heavy rain, smog and a couple of good sized trees," say its builders.

Many parts are home-made from scrap - FR reflectors, for example, are made from wood, plastic or clay with a metallic mesh attached.

The FabFi network has been up and running for over a year, and is still expanding. Right now, its longest link is the 2.41 miles between its base, FabLab, and the local public hospital.

It works at a real throughput of 11.5 Mbps - about half the ideal-case throughput for a standards-compliant off-the-shelf 802.11g router transitting at a distance of only a few feet.

"As long as there’s pressure from those seeking a reasonable life where they can go about their business, there’s hope we can throw a lifeline with these so called undermining capabilities," says FabFi project director Amy Sun.

But, she points out, "Fab Lab/Fi doesn’t solve everything. It’s only one piece: the rest have to develop at the same time. Infrastructure like roads, power, water, schools, teachers, and systems maintenance as well as the user terminals (laptops and computers), people who use them, and the content they'll consume."