Asynchronous Internet Connectivity for OLPC School Servers


I'm Nils Hettich, a student of digital media at Furtwangen University in Germany's black forest currently working on a concept for asynchronous communication for future OLPC equipped schools.

olpc sugar
Rural Internet access: not found

Providing Internet connectivity to all OLPC schools is probably one of the challenging issues yet to solve. Looking at the dissent statements on OLPC News, one can assume that especially in rural areas there won't be access for everyone very soon.

2-Way Satellite access, often the only option if infrastructure lacks, is very expensive, even if some satellite companies might give some bandwidth for free. Still, if some regions can't be reached with permanent connection (yet), why should they not have at least the possibility to browse web pages, do research or send emails asynchronously?

I am suggesting a solution where the users can be connected to the World Wide Web using a store-and forward concept with mechanical back-haul. This has been inspired by the pioneering work of United Villages, connecting telecentres in India.

This is how it can work:

A bus or other vehicle that regularly passes by the village/school is equipped with a wifi-capable server (can be a second-hand laptop) and acts as a "digital postman". It is used to carry data to and from a nearby town with internet access to the schools and automatically synchronizes data as soon as it comes into reach of the school-server.

The official OLPC school server OS will be supplemented with additional software (a web application) that provides a portal for asynchronous services such as:

  • Browse through regularly updated websites
  • Send and receive emails
  • Upload content via ftp
  • Do asynchronous internet searches
The repertory of the available cached content should be selected under didactic aspects. This could be done by the Teachers.

Pupils will be able to access and browse through the content on the server like they would with a regular Internet connection. But they are not restricted to that. They will also be able to send and receive emails and request information via a regular Google search.

More information on this project can be found on my OLPC blog.

Related Entries


This sound a lot like FIDONET and UUCP. There was a program in rural Colorado in the early nineties to connect school with FIDONET and it was pretty effective. This was of course pre-internet days.

UUCP was use to connect servers at universities and include facility for Email, File and NetNews transfer between machines.


There are certain given factors for 3rd world countries who will participate in this program.

The school will be the main internet access for a lot of these students. Main internet access point should be the school. Not some other source. It is definitely possible to set up something like what you are talking about. But, since this is a govt program, this is something that would be easier for respective govt to include some sort of access point on each schools. (They have money for it too).

A lot of kids live very far away from their school. And I dont' know how many of them will actually live near by to take advantage of the mesh access after school. But it is more likely that mesh network is more realistic for a lot of them away from school.

Wow. that would have to be one heck of a hearty server to survive regular travel over rural roads in a developing country. I'm going off your drawing, though. Maybe something more like a gumstick linux server hooked up to a 500G harddrive (or built into the external enclosure) could do it.


When I was Director of Geekcorps, we did something similar in Mali called CyberTigi:

We started with a Nokia 770 and then moved to a USB key pre-loaded with software that would do the up/download on install. The USB key was the best KISS (keep it simple, stupid) solution as it had little obvious re-sale value, yet was more rugged than either the Nokia or the wireless router system that United Villages used.

True, Jeff, the picture might be a bit misleading here..I was thinking more of a rugged laptop or another XO without harddrive - storage isn't a problem here as the data is only stored a 8GB SD card can do the trick.

In most cases, it's probably best to let the region figure out the best way to handle their own situation. Mostly because it is going to vary tremendously.

If the school can afford a decent amount of bandwidth, but they cannot afford to bring it to the home (due to a lack of infrastructure or the students being too dispersed for mesh networking), then tweaking existing software solutions like WWWOfflE may work. If they have neither, than web/email gateways may gain popularity again.

Then there is the hardware side of things.

When I was a kid (and probably still now) there was a mobile library van that came around once a fortnight and served all the schools and villages in a fairly large rural area. This was a great and cost effective solution for the local people to all have access to books, and this was in England too - not a place you would normally consider to have infrastructure problems. I think this is a great idea and a very practical solution to what i thought was one of the bigger issues OLPC users would face "in the wild" - the lack of a proper internet connection. Good luck with it!

Good idea. I hope some of the local OLPC groups and NGOs consider this!

i rememver seeing historys of villages where thay would bring email via bicycles or even horses carrying a mobile wifi that would sync with every mail server on it's way.

The best solution would be to provide with the XO all the tools necessary to turn one laptop in such a dedicate asynchronous internet and email server and then allow each village and region to decide how to implement it best. Who will carry the mail? Is it governement or private initiative? Will be it horse pedal or gas powered? etc

Alexander Van de Sade wrote:

"I remember seeing stories of villages where they would bring email via bicycles or even horses carrying a mobile wifi..."

That's great idea: equip every donkey in town with a server - I'd name it "Burroponte". If that fails, perhaps the OLPC think tank can invent rechargeable wheels for the XO that double as pencil sharpeners. Win-win.

How about a weather balloon? :) I don't know how expensive or practical it can be, however, it should help with distance (on the other hand, it is high up in the sky).