|Mesh potato to dish cheap Internet|
Monday, 16 August 2010 10:06
On the first day of the Tech4Africa conference in Johannesburg, attendees were introduced to a device that would provide low cost telephony and Internet to Africans.
The device, called the Mesh Potato, was funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation in an attempt to reduce the cost of telecommunication in Africa, where people often spend vast amounts of their disposable income – sometimes in excess of 50% - on telecommunications.
The Mesh Potato – named by loosely combining the acronyms POTS (plain old telephone system) and ATA (analog telephone adapter) – is a Wi-Fi router that runs on open hardware that can also be plugged into a normal telephone to provide easy and cheap connectivity.
Since Mesh Potato devices can automatically connect to each other, it creates a mesh network. This means that anyone plugging a telephone into one Mesh Potato can instantly make another call to any other Mesh Potato on the network, or even connect into a broader network, at minimal cost. This mini network will even connect to national telephone networks by using voice-over-Internet Protocol (voIP) services.
There will be no charge to set up and run the mini network, as long as the service is provided free of charge, which means that non-profit organisations could legally use the services without having to apply for an electronic communications license – which is what the case would be in South Africa if the service is sold to consumers.
According to Steve Song, a telecommunications fellow at the Shuttleworth Foundation, each Mesh Potato unit has a range of 400 metres in open spaces, but the range will be shorter in urban areas due to building interference. During his speech at Tech4Africa, Song said that Village Teleco, the company developing the device, is already working on a Potato that will have better range.
The device will go on the market by early 2011, and its robust and weather resistant built will make it tough enough to withstand the harsh African environment so that it can be used in hostile terrain. Once for sale, it should be available for less than $100.
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