Residents of Idjwi Island, a remote island in Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are now enjoying free Internet courtesy of a special project dubbed “Mesh Wi-Fi” headed by their king, Gervais Rubenga. The project was first tested in a remote estate in Scotland featuring a similar environment to ensure the system can withstand the harsh winds of Western Congo.
The initiative is a collaboration between Fjord Net, an innovation consultancy company based in the United Kingdom, and Ensemble Pour La Difference, a social incubator based in Bukavu, DRC.
“Having built a prototype, the immediate challenge was how to test it without going [all] the way to Congo. We needed a rural area with hills and little or no interference from other signals. The highlands of Scotland seemed the ideal option” Fjord Net writes on their website.
Since May, at least 10,000 people on the island, which is estimated to host about 250,000 people, have started enjoying free Internet access.
The system was first installed in Bukavu Town from where the signal is transmitted to neighboring areas by a series of masts. Unlike broadband, Mesh Wi-Fi doesn’t require cables to transmit the signal and people can make homemade antenna’s out of scrap metal to share the connection.
Access to the Outside World
Fjord Net says at least 30 users are connecting to the system’s access point on a daily basis, opening the isolated island to the outside world.
“We are now defining the community operational model for the Internet, bringing more employment, health services, and educational content to hospitals and schools,” Fjord Net adds.
Prior to this project, the island was completely cut off from the mainland making it difficult for business owners to call or send texts to their customers.
Currently, Internet users on the island can easily connect without having to disclose any personal details to the government, a stark contrast to the rest of the country which is heavily monitored and censored.
“The government is very controlling. If you apply for a phone contract you have to tell the names and numbers with all of your friends,” Euan Millar, who is leading the project for Fjord Net told the Guardian.
Idjwi Island is just one of several remote places around the world that are already enjoying mesh networking. The system has been implemented in remote villages in Brazil, Scotland, Italy, and Hong Kong.
BY FREDRICK NGUGI: