No Synchronous Internet Connectivity (or VSATs) for OLPC Peru

   
   
   
   
   

I was wrong to suggest the need for certified VSAT installers in my VSAT Installation Dance post about Internet access for OLPC schools in Peru. There may be a bigger issue: no synchronous Internet connectivity for all of OLPC Peru!

vsat dance
No VSATs needed for OLPC Peru

According to Javier Rodriguez's interview of Oscar Becerra, from "DIGETE" or "Direccion General de Tecnologias Educativas," which manages the "Huascaran Project", the OLPC Peruvian project, and other distance or tele-education programs:

Question (Javier Rodriguez): the OLPC project is going to use some of the infrastructure that the Huascaran project can provide?
Answer (Oscar Becerra): That is not the route that has been planned. The OLPC XOs machines will have their own method to connect to the Internet, mainly not related to the Huascaran Project.

Q: About the OLPC' XOs in Peru.. are they going to be connected to the Internet by VSATs?
A: No. That is not the plan. The XOs will record their request in USBs that will be "collected" by the teacher in his XO or in a School Server. Then the teacher will travel to the nearest "internet capable" point and send its request.

This travel can be once by day, once by week, once by month or once every three months. That depends on the location and environment conditions of the village and the location of the nearest internet point. There are many "Internet Cafes" (cabinas) in the remote villages, one can be surprised about where you will find an Internet Cafe

([Javier:] I translate "cabinas" as "Internet Cafe" because for Americans this could be the most accurate image... but no cafe there! only cheap computers (normally) connected to the internet).

Q: Are the "Internet Cafes" going to have the computers ready to "get the USB" and "pass" the request of information to the Internet? this "Internet Cafes" work with Windows and not with "Linux"... ?
A: That is not the only way. The teacher can travel to the nearest UGEL, the UGEL must have a computer that is able to get the USB from the teacher and do all needed requests.

([Javier:] there are 250 UGELS approximately in all Peru. An UGEL is a local administrative office of the Ministry of Education, they manage directly all the schools in some area).

Asynchronous "sneakernet" Internet connectivity is not a new idea - I remember shuffling floppy disks between TSR-80's back in the day, and I even worked on a USB key-enabled program recently. In addition, asynchronous connectivity school servers can be the best system for very rural and remote regions that cannot afford VSATs.

But isn't it odd that Peru is not utilizing the Internet connectivity infrastructure that is already present in the country:

  • 6,300 VSAT's through Fondo de Inversion en Telecommunications del Peru (FITEL)
  • LMI Peru, which added "micro-telco" businesses
  • The Huascaran project which added 900 VSAT connected schools
In addition, I've heard that Peru has a rather wealthy Universal Service fund and is about to spend $70 million USD to expand rural Internet connectivity.

Also, isn't much of the OLPC functionality predicated on Internet connectivity? From exploring new content, to adding new software, to resetting Bitfrost, I thought synchronous Internet access was a requirement for a full One Laptop Per Child implementation.

Then why is the Peruvian government pushing OLPC beyond synchronous infrastructure? Wouldn't it be more efficient to leverage the current networks to bring the wealth of the Internet to rural Peruvian children through the XO laptop? What Peruvian enigma is at the root of this mystery?

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18 Comments

Peru seems like the ideal location for mountain-topped wifi networks.
Some of those coastal peaks are inaccessible by foot but a helicopter could drop an install crew with solar Access Points to cover a large part of the country.
I only have Google Maps/Earth to judge by but I have done a similar thing in country towns in Australia to share a satellite connection with town folk.
A network on the scale of the western seaboard of Peru would be quite large but I'd estimate with solar APs worth around $2000 each to supply/install you could cover the country for about $500,000.

"cherchez la femme" they say, or "follow the money".
As Eduardo Mansilla (a self avowed OLPC Adversary) wrote in http://www.olpcnews.com/countries/peru/olpc_peru_xo_mystery.html
there is no reason to assume the Peru project was really thought out in much detail, and it is not hard to believe that such trifle as connectivity never really was considered.
In my personal view of the matter, connectivity is a luxury, and to expect it as one of life's necessities, already available and usable (as OLPC central does), is not rational.
It is possible worldwide connectivity might take a couple generations, or maybe it will never happen.
Why? Open, free (as in beer) connectivity is the death of any telco model. Worse if broadband.
FITEL, even if just to a deluded extent, had to prove to its investors they were going to make money. That those campesinos out in the middle of nowhere where going to justify the humongous VSAT investment and running costs through their purchase of connectivity for their llama dung operations.
Enter the OLPC.
Unless there is some blackmail going on (and why not?), what it looks like is to just "give away" for free all that expensive connectivity. We're talking a dollar-a-minute VSAT expenses in a country where a teacher is supposedly paid $400 a month. Every VSAT tower costs us about a teacher-month per day.
The blackmail take is that FITEL, and maybe Huascaran itself (out in a similar limb), might be all too happy to allow OLPC to use their currently mostly useless hrdware, for a price, of course, hopefully paid by the North, outraged at this unmet need, because, as Wayan says,
"Also, isn't much of the OLPC functionality predicated on Internet connectivity? From exploring new content, to adding new software, to resetting Bitfrost, I thought synchronous Internet access was a requirement for a full One Laptop Per Child implementation."

Yep, OLPC (as is), is so _dependent_ on the internet that it's not even funny.

Yama,

"Yep, OLPC (as is), is so _dependent_ on the internet that it's not even funny."

You are confusing 'internet' with 'networking'. A school server with a few DVD-worth of content can provide a mesh-based Intranet with more information/content than the kids in those locations could ever imagine before. My library has a good selection of books for study and enjoyment and the fact that all those books where delivered by road didn't make them less so. Of course, unlike for me with my library, for those kids 'getting' those 'books' will be available at a press of a button. Having access to Internet will make the process even more efficient and powerful but its not, as you assume, an absolute necessity.

The more crucial role, after ensuring that the basic content is available, is to enable kids/teachers to collaborate efficiently during their activities and that's, with the mesh-networking, where the greatest educational gain is expected.

From OLPC own source http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Internet :

"OLPC project's role

Since the OLPC is primarily an educational project, we are less concerned with providing Internet access to kids and more concerned with providing a laptop that is capable of networking locally.
..."

Delphi

OLPC's need for Internet connectivity and global access depends on who you ask: http://www.olpcnews.com/hardware/wireless/internet_connectivity_olpc.html

Wayan,

Thanks for the references - it confirms what I just said and it's worth citing [1]:

"The OLPC networking concept is not Internet-based. We assume that there will be no Internet connectivity and no Internet gateways. The laptops are being deployed into countries which do not have a lot of native-language content available on the Internet.

The networking focus is to make sure that the laptops will be able to communicate with each other over a larger than normal area, and that they will be able to communicate with resources in the school. In most cases, these school resources will not be Internet gateways but will be more like a cross between a library and an FTP site with content that kids can download to their laptops.

Of course some schools will have Internet access and may copy Internet content for use by the kids, but the laptops are not intended to be used for direct Internet surfing."

I can not find any references (yours or otherwise) where OLPC is saying that schools _have_to_ be connected to Internet.

Again, try to use common sense and think outside the box, yes Internet access will be nice where practical and cost effective (and that's the situations Negroponte clearly refers to) and with time will allow all the schools to be connected in the future. But given availability of the adequate content on the local server it's the local mesh-based _Intranet_ which will provide primary content access and enable all-important collaboration.

[1] OLPC Wiki - School Gateways
( http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Ask_OLPC_a_Question_about_Hardware#School_Gateways )

@delphi:
"Again, try to use common sense and think outside the box, yes Internet access will be nice where practical and cost effective (and that's the situations Negroponte clearly refers to) and with time will allow all the schools to be connected in the future."

My expectation is that if internet connectivity is worthwhile, some means to get it will be found in due time (remember, in the long time we are all dead).

Contrary to what the telcos try to make you believe, connectivity is extremely cheap nowadays. Calling across the world is just as expensive as calling your neighbor. What is expensive is the last mile to the individual homes.

As for real solutions, there have been a lot of Ham radio solutions floating around. For instance:
http://www.firstmilesolutions.com/documents/DakNet_IEEE_Computer.pdf

Winter

That was an interesting link, but the wrong one. Sorry.

This is the correct one:
http://www.worldses.org/conferences/2006/greece/iccom/CSCC-EE2006CallForParticipation.pdf

And of course, the OLPCnews Ham radio link:
http://www.olpcnews.com/software/applications/ham_radio_xo_geek_pair.html

Winter

Delphi wrote:

"But given availability of the adequate content on the local server it's the local mesh-based _Intranet_ which will provide primary content access and enable all-important collaboration."

If that's true, the situation is much worse than anticipated; the XO lacks the "adequate content on the local server", so this patient is pretty much dead on arrival...

@Irvin:
"If that's true, the situation is much worse than anticipated; the XO lacks the "adequate content on the local server", so this patient is pretty much dead on arrival..."

You must be right.

That must also have been the reason why the telephone, email, and the World Wide Web never made it. All dead on arrival. All lacked any adequate content when introduced.

Winter

Winter wrote;

"You must be right."

Of course, I'm right.

No internet access and no educational content means that the XO is pretty useless for education purposes. That would be true of ANY computer, though...

Pencils, telephones, chairs, railroads, etc. don't need internet access or educational content to serve their purpose. Pencils write. Phones put people in verbal contact from a distance. Chairs hold people's bodies. Railroads transport people. Computers specifically designed to "improve a child's education" (like the OLPC claims) need educational content or a means (internet connectivity) of accessing that educational content.

Bad news for OLPC, if Delphi is to be believed.

:-)

@Irvin:
"No internet access and no educational content means that the XO is pretty useless for education purposes. That would be true of ANY computer, though..."

So why are you still here?

Winter

Winter wrote:

"So why are you still here?"

Because I enjoy it greatly.

:-)

@Irvin:
"Because I enjoy it greatly.

:-)"

So it is now official: You enjoy hitting poor children!

Winter

Irvin,

"the XO lacks the "adequate content on the local server", so this patient is pretty much dead on arrival..."

You are mistaken - the information stored (some 339 000+ articles in the Spanish version [1] ) in the Wikipedia alone (a snapshot of which can be easily installed on a school server ) is more than these kids could have ever dreamt of to have access before, even if not all the articles will be directly relevant to what they study - but then, there's nothing stopping them to explore areas outside the normal curriculum, the opportunity is there waiting for them... Add to it hundreds and growing number of children books available from Project Gutenberg and others and you have a very decent library available to every kids at a press of a button. The current textbooks the kids use will be gradually replaced with the ones in a digital format. Then, and not the least, there will be content the teachers and the school kids will create themselves with info particular to their own location/school - the concept of an easily accessible 'wiki' is a powerful one.

But, and repeating myself here again, as important as the content is, it's the availability of the _Intranet_ (and not necessarily Internet), which makes the students/teachers collaboration possible at this level - perhaps the most powerful educational concept in the whole OLPC educational underpinning. There's a very good reason why a completely new GUI has been implemented although it's obvious that many still don't 'get it'...

@delphi:
"But, and repeating myself here again, as important as the content is, it's the availability of the _Intranet_ (and not necessarily Internet), which makes the students/teachers collaboration possible at this level - perhaps the most powerful educational concept in the whole OLPC educational

Indeed, just read Ivan's report from Arahuay (if you haven't already):

http://radian.org/notebook/astounded-in-arahuay

(maybe a good subject for a post?)

Winter

Winter,

A wonderful report on OLPC in real-life action (rather than gossip/speculations on OLPC/Intel/MS...). I think we can expect many more heart warming stories like this coming from the field in the near future...

Once again we see the failure of the grandiose notion of a requirement of VSAT infrastructure (even if in this case it appears to be beurocratic :) ).

Last I checked though, there are two GSM providers albeit their data capacity rides on GSM1900 only (so no Edge) but there are (5) CDMA deployments most with 3G technology.

Strange yet again this fails to get a mention anywhere in the post.

People need to understand that the Internet, and more generally, any external information at all, is not necessary for OLPC to succeed. Starting simply with multiple OLPCs meshed together, the children will gain: the ability to operate a PC, the ability to expand the PC in a generative way (programs, macros, etc...), the ability to use interaction for purposes not currently available such as coordinating meetings, disaster response, justice issues, safety, educational review, group projects, etc...

It is very important to remember that all of these things can happen without external connectivity. If anything, I would encourage OLPC programs to focus on getting the machines out there and put money that would have been spent on external connectivity into more machines and curriculum development. The Internet at large is really a late-phase addition that should only be implemented in a final step. Ignoring it in the early phases also reduces the need to focus on issues such as children viewing inappropriate content, etc...

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