Scalability of a Wireless Mesh Community Network in
Rural South Africa

Bridging Application and Network Gaps (BANG)

We work with industry partners and NGOs in multi-disciplinary teams to engage communities with innovative information and communication technology. We operate at the intersection of mobile computing, telecommunications, user interface, and software engineering. We innovate communication alternatives for two marginalized South African communities. We have learnt much from longitudinal experience with both and can show that while the two application domains are vastly different, both similarly align to the South African National Development Plan (NDP) 2030. We design alternative user interfaces and communication prototypes with and for a poor Deaf community in Cape Town that is literate in signed language, yet functionally illiterate. A multi-disciplinary team includes experts in Computer Science, Industrial Design Engineering, Pharmacy, and Deaf Literacy. We help Deaf people understand prescription information in signed language from a pharmacist on a mobile phone. This tool can be generalized to other limited interaction scenarios and to other languages for text illiterate users. We also explore rural wireless networks and their communication applications in the remote Eastern Cape. We have shifted attention from telehealth to economically viable community-owned and run mesh networks. This multi-disciplinary project currently involves experts in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Ethnography. The project already generates income from solar charging mobile phones, and is used for free intranet VoIP calls. We aim to interconnect this inverse infrastructure to operators to generate income for all stakeholders. We believe alternative forms of communication as demonstrated by these two community-based projects can make a demonstrable contribution to the NDP 2030. Our publications, prototypes and postgraduates provide valuable examples of how to increase the size of the South African telecommunications pie so that all can benefit.
BANG projects for 2015