Sunday, November 30, 2008

Addressing the Digital Divide

From Springwise:

Unreliable electricity and spotty internet access are a fact of life in many parts of the developing world—and part of the reason the digital divide still persists today. A new, solar-powered innovation from Florida-based GNUveau Networks, however, is bringing computers and the internet to places that have no connectivity, no phone service and no electricity.

Functioning as a sort of "ISP in a box," SolarNetOne is a terminal network system that uses photovoltaic solar electrical systems and a variety of open source technologies to make internet access a reality in the remotest areas. Included in the system are a small-footprint server and five terminals (expandable to as many as 48) that come loaded with web browsing, email, office, multimedia, software development and web development capabilities, with more than 15,000 other applications—including VoIP—to choose from as well. SolarNetOne's terminals operate as thin clients—meaning that the majority of the workload is handled by the server—and the system’s Ethernet hub provides both network connection and electrical power to the terminals and their LCD monitors over a single wire. A power subsystem including an array of photovoltaic solar panels, an advanced charge controller and ample battery storage, meanwhile, provides for all of the electrical needs associated with 24/7 server operation and 8 hours per day of terminal access. Wifi coverage spans a 2-mile radius, with no fuel costs, no polluting emissions and a long lifespan of up to 20 years with proper maintenance. The entire system, in fact, operates on about the same amount of power as a 100-watt light bulb, GNUveau says. The technology has already been installed at Katsina State University in Nigeria, and a video explanation is available here.

I'm surprised this didn't come from MIT. It sounds awesome and the technology and potential seem promising, but I can't see this project qualifying as an example of social entrepreneurship. Unlike GrameenPhone and similar ventures, the target appears to be large organizations like universities, but hopefully this will expand to poor rural areas.

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