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Upcountry HF E-Mail Network As an Early Component of a Developing Country's Information Infrastructure

by Daniel Stern, Project Director, Uganda Connect, Mission Mobile Education


'I can feel it in my bones', was how World Food Programme's Peter Casier, put it. And that intuitive sense of 'knowing', almost without the benefit of our senses, or even of our reason, can probably best explain how Uganda Connect came to be involved in promoting upcountry connectivity through transmitting e-mail worldwide over the Internet by radio data communications network. We understood that this important new radio e-mail technology should be deployed with all speed, and made available immediately to the widest number of sectors, to redress the information gap, the desperate need for rural access to basic communications so vital to reconstruction and development.

Telecommunications is a key element in any country's strategy for reconstruction and development. Therefore, much as I believe in free enterprise, the private sector and deregulation, the implementation of this truly enabling technology, radio e-mail having now been proven to be an effective means for upcountry communications, should no longer be left to market forces. Instead, the technology will require very careful regulation that will enhance and facilitate its more widespread proliferation, lest by its neglect it be expropriated by commercial interests, to the detriment of the nation. May the telling of our story help to correct any misapprehensions. I'll try to keep it simple.

HF is free-to-air, whereas even the most optimistic projections for promised LEO connection charges for developing countries of between a dollar and three dollars a minute are beyond the reach of all but large companies and expatriate NGOs.

As to the benefits of low earth orbit satellite (LEOS), I don't say that many of us will not one day enjoy them. But in weighing the cost against the benefits of a project I'd instinctively shy away, tending to Thoreau's view, in Walden, on the technological wonder of his day, that, 'Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end. ... Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity ... long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing, but though a crowd rushes to the dépôt, and the conductor shouts 'All aboard !' when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over...'.

That said, I sincerely wish the satellite consortia success, that when the resulting benefits have been weighed in the balances, against the enormous investments in human resources, they will not be found wanting, and that the project will indeed have contributed, as President Mandela put it, to 'enhance our ability to deliver improved quality of life ... to previously disadvantaged areas in the continent'. In the meantime I would affirm my belief in more humble strategies. I had a good laugh when I read about the leader of Uganda's revolutionary movement stranded while travelling across Lake Victoria in a motorised launch when the motor seized up; ended up a canoe and a couple of paddles saved the day. Prudence also would dictate that a nation avoid putting too many of its delicate and vital rural telecommunications interests in one basket.

And let's not put the cart before the horse ; for in any case, for a developing country to be able to quickly get up to speed and to fully benefit from future advances in telecommunications technologies, the basics of a data communications infrastructure will have to have already been put into place: the need for a certain number of PCs, creating the necessary critical mass, able to be used as telecommunications devices, already on the ground in those countries; their usefulness for rural projects will have to have been demonstrated; trainers trained, basic infrastructures as electricity already developed. In other words, it is unlikely that the sudden availability of high bandwidth data communications in rural areas, promised by LEOS consortia, however inexpensive the service, will of itself create upcountry connectivity. But first there must be an awareness, a sensitization, through the use of humbler technologies, even such as has been instituted by Uganda Connect in its programme which uses recycled PCs to "Train the Trainers"; a sufficient number of PCs will have to be on the ground to connect to, via the heavenly clusters.

I was sorry if I put a damper on the festive atmosphere of Interactive97's Software Infrastructure forum for Global Information Infrastructure (GII), speakers celebrating together with yet another glorious vision of future technologies supposed to make this a better world. But someone had to speak up for reality. During the Q&A session I challenged; how practicable were their innovations towards truly fulfilling the vision of globalisation, of narrowing the information gap? I'd just come from working in one of the more progressive of sub-Saharan Africa's countries, where most civil servants were still working on manual typewriters. When I told of Uganda Connect gathering secondhand PCs to send in a cargo container, the forum's Chair, Microsoft's European President, was dismissive of my suggestion that programmers be more mindful of the developing world's lack of faster chip computers. In response to my telling how our project trainees had greatly benefited from the more intuitive Windows 95 environment, and auto didactic office suite programs written for it - though they ran slowly on 386 PCs - speakers heaped scorn on the idea of shipping 386 PCs to Africa's developing countries.

I was as keen as any to promote the GII vision; but as anyone will attest who spoke with visiting developing country ministers, agog at the growing discrepancies between the GII vision and the reality of what they were working with in their own offices, the hyperbole was now straining our credibility to the point of becoming ridiculous. I said, 'I'd love to be able to ship a container full of 486s and Pentium PCs, but those people urgently need 386 PCs today, not 486s tomorrow!'

And this really is the crux of the matter: Uganda Connect's small pilot programme, using recycled PCs, even lowly 386s, instead of newer 486 or Pentiums; selecting, for their 'Train the Trainer' programme, marginalised peoples, rather than local elites; and operating an HF/VHF radio data communications network as an alternative to LEO satellite, for rural connectivity, is a needed step in the right direction, and may in the end prove to offer a more viable, less costly and reproducible model for the continent than smarter looking schemes. Let's see.

The Chase

Peter Casier was explaining to Uganda Connect's Project Co-ordinator, Caroline Wieland, how their network had grown to connect the regional headquarters in Kampala with fifty or so WFP Deep Field Mailing Stations (DFMS) in Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo for the co-ordination of food distribution for refugees. But what could explain the puzzled excitement I felt, as I studied the whiteboard diagram he was drawing, hubs linked to sub hubs, linked by HF radio for the transmission of data?

I was momentarily distracted as pictures began to flood me. Watching Peter sketch the structure of the WFP communications network, the nervous system for the renowned humanitarian body responsible for the feeding of the multitudes, touching images of emaciated mothers and children reaching out for very life stirred me. So this was how it was done!

It must have been something I'd caught from the manner in which Peter was showing me, the tone in his voice, as though we were being instructed how Uganda Connect might build a similar network for not-for-profit projects in the region. When Peter turned from the whiteboard to comment, 'Of course it's a big project and expensive to implement', his usual cheery grin was gone; instead an imploring look seemed to challenge, 'Got the faith?'.

Our collaboration with WFP began with a rebuff. The commercial HF e-mail provider had invited us to bring our communications truck to their centre. HF radio manufacturer, Codan, had agreed to give Uganda Connect their latest model HF radio and modem on free-loan; and we told the provider that all we needed from them was their service. We needed to make the technology more widely known, willing to publicise their service, by making demonstrations upcountry with one of our communications trucks, on a volunteer basis, for the sensitisation of rural not-for-profit projects. But their director explained that their service was rather too expensive for any such scheme, profitable enough for mining companies, tea and coffee enterprises, but not for the likes of projects envisaged by Uganda Connect, schools, hospitals, agricultural cooperatives, community centres, possibly even government offices.

Since first learning of this new revolutionary technology, and wondering why it wasn't already being used on a wider scale, we had been on something of a paper chase. To be fair, many expatriate-led companies in Africa, up against obstructive bureaucracies, had been forced to adopt isolationist policies. Added to this, Uganda's telco, UPTC, who issued the all-important licenses, was in limbo, pending the approval by Parliament of telecommunications liberalisation legislation. ISPs would naturally be reluctant to reveal their long-term plans or commit themselves to some new alliance; each was positioning itself for the sound of the starting gun which would announce the go ahead of deregulated telecoms, ready to claim the new land which would soon be opened on a 'first come, first served' basis. Now I had to admit their director had me over a barrel. Neither I nor any of my team of volunteers possessed the expertise to troubleshoot a serious technical problem upcountry. And, no, perhaps I shouldn't have expected his company to provide technical support; how could he justify sending one of their highly paid staff upcountry?

I agreed that at least in the long term private sector ought to be the means to make it sustainable. And if they would succeed in putting an HF e-mail 'bush bureau' in every Shell station in the country, more power to them; they'd deserve the riches earned for supplying the nation with so vital a service. I heartily support the idea.

However we were dealing with an emergency of national proportions, basic access to communications could not wait. The town of Bundibugyo had recently been overrun by rebels, government officials captured and killed because they didn't have a working telephone with which to call for UPDF government troops to defend them! Such a telecommunications emergency called for a general mobilisation. We had to show that HF/VHF e-mail technology was an effective means of solving the problem. Initial non-commercial projects would require subsidies, but if carefully implemented would discourage dependency, and be scaled to be gradually adopted by the private sector on a profitable basis.

After our meeting with the service provider the question was, how now were we to demonstrate HF data transmission without a service provider?! And where was the spirit of cooperation and helpfulness that we'd come to expect from others already caught up in exciting prospects that Internet technologies held for the taming of the wilderness, for narrowing the information gap?

We refused to believe that we were off the trail. We clung to our first inspiration, the belief in the importance of this technological breakthrough, a hybrid of something old, HF radio, something new, radio modems connected to the Internet, something borrowed, our equipment ; never mind how we felt. I'd thrilled to read of early pioneers as Vint Cerf, co-creator of TCP/IP, and moving force behind the Internet, of their faith and determination to create and perfect a tool of such inherent magnanimity. Now I had to believe that the rebuff was only a momentary setback, that protective barriers erected by those who resisted the tide would eventually be swept away; 'knowledge would cover the earth....' The chase was still on! WFP had a mandate from the AfricaLink programme (www.info.usaid.gov/alnk) that had originally given support to the development of the HF e-mail network, to extend their network, share expertise, for both the private sector, as had been done in the case of the company mentioned, and for non-WFP projects - such as ours. Oxfam, an 'implementing partner' with WFP had just joined the network. A meeting at WFP's regional headquarters with our Project Co-ordinator resulted in Uganda Connect being invited to participate in their programme. Our volunteers were advised on short notice to get the communications truck ready for an early morning joint exercise with a team from WFP.

Gaba Bivouac

'Come on guy's we're running late', the urgency in Peter's voice as he called his team to load into the UN 4x4 vehicles called to mind romantic notions of humanitarian aid agency staff responding to some new emergency, going to the rescue, with the determination of a fireman jumping into his boots and sliding down the brass pole. Radio equipment, antenna, telescopic mast carefully loaded, and we were off.

Our white thirty-year-old ex-Swiss military Saurer 2DM 4x4 almost looked like a UN lorry. Team mechanic and logistics manager, Emmanuel, had converted it, deep-cycle batteries, 1000 watt inverter, desks and cupboards for computer equipment, sides opening with awnings for demonstrations, as we'd done the week before, parking just outside the Sheraton for the Africa Computer and Communications show, AITEC.

Arriving near Lake Victoria, we persuaded a couple of soldiers to allow us to set up the trucks on property not far from one of Idi Amin's former residences. Within the hour the ten-metre aluminium mast was up, radio and modem connected to a laptop, and voice contact made with the radio room in Kampala. That we'd been able to set up so quickly, with broadband antenna, capable of serving as a base station for any DFMS thousands of kilometres away, was mighty impressive.

We sent a first short e-mail message, after establishing voice contact, switching over to the new frequency and checking the quality of our reception. After our 'ready to make an exchange', the radio room in Kampala took over, using Lotus cc:Mail to send messages on their server for us, before receiving our new message. Messages were transmitted quickly. One of the strengths of using cc:Mail with the Codan 9002 modem was its ability to support high data throughputs www.codan.com.au We'd put it to the test by transmitting a message to WFP staff, worldwide, including Rome's headquarters, with a 50k digitised photo attached. I took photo to capture the moment, members from both teams, and an observer from UNICEF, huddled round the radio, listening to the sound of the data being transmitted and watching the throughput indicator, staying high, going through first time without a hitch and fast!

In another hour we'd dismantled our temporary station, scrambled into our respective vehicles and were on our way back to Kampala, where, in reply to our test, congratulatory messages from around the world were already coming in, proof that claims of truly instant international communications through this lowly technology were not just hype.

For Want of E-mail

It was on the eve of the our Uganda Internet Society meeting. The editor of The Monitor had given us a deadline to submit an article about the Internet to announce the meeting, to be on the theme, the 'Liberalisation of Uganda's Telecommunications: An Internet Focus'. But power had been cut in Mukono, and our neighbour's telephone line down, monkeys again! Communications truck to the rescue! It was the busiest time of the day, WFP allocating frequencies 'first come, first served', and being so close to Kampala was a problem. Our first attempt to transmit failed. It was a weakness of the Codan cc:Mail system that it could easily drop the connection if reception conditions were poor, and this was the case; we dropped the connection several times before we finally transmitted the attached article via the Internet to the editor.

We can only guess how many of the over 160 who attended, or thousands who later watched on television news, might not have heard about or been reminded of the meeting had not our page three article been published in time, all for want of basic telecommunications. For want of e-mail a kingdom was lost.

Rock Soup

Universal access as a means to 'promote economic growth and development, consolidate democracy and human rights and increase the capacity of ordinary people to participate in governance'; when I read the South African President's words, I thought of Uganda Connect's volunteer trainee trainers. 'Ordinary people' were also the means to that end! Chosen from marginalised groups, school leavers, unemployed youth, refugees, orphans, handicapped, women and girls who, when compared with local elites, these have demonstrated a superior ability to adapt; their survival skills no doubt enable them to adjust the more quickly to the ever-changing environment of information technology; their seeming weaknesses or disadvantage make them the more adept at grasping core concepts, or of easily adding to their repertoire of skills; they have the less to unlearn!

We start students with a typing course, and then move them on to word processing, before introducing them to the Internet, e-mail, and later the web. They may also learn how to compile databases or do spreadsheets, according to each one's interest or predilection. Trainers assist new students to get off the mark, but then let each work at his or her own pace. Though the pace is relaxed, the atmosphere is exhilarating, with the feeling that 'something's happening here!'.

New students are accepted only for a short introductory course, with no promise of receiving any kind of certificate of qualification, but simply the opportunity of getting hands-on experience in exchange for a token fee, the equivalent of a bottle of Coke for each half hour. Many leave satisfied at having been given a good introduction to information technology, others will have caught the vision, shown a willingness to help with the programme, take a hand with the other students, and some will continue as trainee trainers.

These trainee trainers, while acquiring basic computer communications skills, on recycled PCs, are gradually given increasing responsibility in running a training centre, teaching others early on, with what little they know, eventually enabling them to run the centre themselves, with the minimal amount of supervision. Much of the management of centres, supervision and collaboration, is done by e-mail.

Keep it small, keep it pure, keep it strong - then let it double. Our first team of six volunteer trainee trainers, who started training from scratch in when our Ministry of Education offices opened in March 1997, were themselves overseeing the teaching of one hundred Ugandan students by the end of the year.

Some of our students who had already attended computer courses in Kampala commented on how much more quickly they learned with our programme, that they were rarely given hands-on experience until after they'd read and studied course materials - about concepts that could only have made sense to them after they'd had some experience. We did everything we could to minimise overheads, to the end that we could offer a more friendly approach to learning the new technology.

Sun Microsystems founder, John Gage, was one of the speakers at the Software Infrustructure forum who admitted they used only two or three percent of the popular office suite software's capabilities! How many of us use much more than that? With the newer programs being so much more intuitive, how long does it take one to acquire that level of competence? Think about it.

And to those who argue that such a policy is not sustainable, I'd counter that in dealing with an emergency, you sometimes set up soup kitchens. Let the ones who volunteer to stir the pot get some good experience under their belts, and when the emergency is over, some of them should qualify for jobs, maybe even open their own restaurants.

Our 'Train the Trainers' scheme envisages new centres being set up by trainees, modelled after our pilot centre in the Ministry of Education, so that trainees will have acquired management and communications skills, learned how to work collaboratively with their colleagues, teachers and students, using the Internet for sending their reports, finding information, as we are now doing, skills which will make them eminently qualified for employment in the dawning information age, but more to the point, they are creating employment, for themselves and others.

Rural Hospital Connected by HF/VHF Radio Link

After WFP had given the green light for Uganda Connect to begin building its own HF e-mail network for linking not-for-profit projects in rural areas, we decided to set up our first pilot HF e-mail sub hub in Arua. The idea was that we could use the WFP server and receive support from their Technical Services Unit (TSU) until such a time as our network had grown to the point where we would need to set up our own server.

Paul Wyse is an amateur radio ham who used his radios in Arua to link his Summer Institute of Linguistic (SIL) offices with other branches around the world. He and his wife Peggy had been working with the indigenous peoples of southern Sudan, but due to the civil war had had to move into Arua, on Uganda's border with Sudan and Congo, about 500 kilometres from Kampala. Here are excerpts from a report he wrote shortly after I'd flown up to Arua in a single-engine Cessna with a radio we'd borrowed from WFP to set it up:

'Kuluva Hospital, a mission hospital, is located 12 kms from Arua. It has the reputation of being the best hospital with in miles. Two years ago a project from Germany put in a 150 KV hydro plant, so it is the only hospital in the North with 24 hour electricity. They have the best stocked pharmacy in the North. Kuluva is working jointly with several labs in the UK and regularly send specimens back by the courier company, DHL. The problem is that results take so long to get back. Kuluva is known for it's preventive medicine approach, as well as reconstruction for children who have had polio and leprosy work. They are very anxious for an e-mail connection....

'My organization, SIL, is working in a number of language projects and needs communications to organize language and literacy workshops for a language and literacy workshops for a number of vernacular language in the area. My vision for e-mail for the Arua area is to have a hub in the SIL offices with VHF links to Kuluva, Aru and Africa Inland Mission. The possibilities exist for some telephone modem connections within the city as well. The interest is here! The help of Uganda Connectivity Project, in collaboration with WFP, is a big step in e-mail for the area to be come a reality.' paul_wyse@sil.org

Our collaboration was quite fruitful. Kuluva Hospital and eight other projects were connected by our sub hub in Arua. Paul compared throughputs for the Codan and Pactor II radio modems, the latter connecting via HF to South Africa on an amateur radio band, copying the WFP engineers in Kampala and Codan's R & D team in Australia, who, together, had pioneered the technology. This helped to pinpoint weakpoints. Then Paul, together with colleague, Andy Maybury, pioneered the integration of VHF with HF, using Lotus cc:Mail, so local projects, as Kuluva connected over short distances using inexpensive VHF, thus greatly enhancing the prospects for radio-Internet technology to proliferate.

Paul's report dated September 1997 compares Codan with Pactor II radio modem throughput :

Comparing data between the Codan 8528/9002 and the SCS PTC-II using a Kenwood TS-450 with power reduced to 50 watts for 27 days between August 14 when we made our first transfer and Sept. 13. The Codan using cc :Mail, freq. range of 5.2 to 7.8 Mhz over a 400 mile path, with a lot of hand shaking, compared with the PTC-II on 20 and 15 meters over a 2070 mile path which was raw data transmitted.

For the Codan, I am passing 10 to 15 messages a day, messages normally only 1 to 2 Kb. Total for 27 days 1.912 Mb in a total of 12.5 hours =2525 bytes per minute. This is 27.75 minutes per day average.

Using the PTC-II for same period, 2070 miles path. Total for 27 days 313,959 Kb in 192 minutes = 1635 bytes per minute. This is an average of 7 minutes per day. The procedure for both systems was to check in twice a day morning and evening.

October 1997 report compares throughputs and connection charges for satphones and HF e-mail :

Satphone at 2 hours per month the Standby and Regular rate are equal. This amounts to $202 per month and works out to $3.36 per minute. To make the Freedom rate useful you have to use over 3 1/2 hours per month. The break even point for Freedom over Regular is over $600 per month for the lower $2.88 per minute rate.

Now for some assumptions : I would guess the overhead of cc :Mail would be the same percentage no matter what the speed. For the Codan, though advertised throughput is 1400 bps, the best I have been able to do on an exchange is 458 bps, taking off 90 seconds for handshaking, best throughput , 516 bps. (Throughputs had averaged 261bps for Codan, 239 bps for PTC II)

Using a 50% average throughput, then with the above figures messages on satphone would run about $1.00 each. Looking at it another way the Kb rate would be $.38 as compared with Bushnet of $.30 plus VAT = $.35 per Kb which would be quite competitive. (Note: The message size for the best throughput was 2812 bytes per message. A shorter message would have a higher percentage of overhead and a larger message less overhead.)

One should keep in mind that the Bushnet charges would seem to have been based upon making them competitive with local rates for international fax rather than actual costs, otherwise the figures would argue for satellite charges being comparable to HF e-mail.

Opportunity from Extremity

I was in Geneva to present my paper about recycling at the ITU's Interactive 97 forum on National Information Infrastructure when I received the news that apparently someone from a certain commercial HF radio e-mail provider had, in my absence, put pressure on the powers that be to cut our connection with WFP, on some pretext or other, and that WFP higher ups had reluctantly decided to give us notice to quit using their server in a few months. Reminded me of Davy Crockett's boat race with Mike Fink and the River Pirates, though it didn't seem so funny at the time.

Nevertheless the timing was fortuitous. A colleague at the WFP had already put together a 'shopping list' for all the equipment and software we would need when the time came for us to set up our own server. Now the time had come, and here I was surrounded by CEOs and directors from many of the companies whose equipment and software we would need, Cisco, Sun, Microsoft. Our team didn't waste time letting the need be made known, and before the conference was over we had the earnest promise of help from each of the companies concerned.

Other Men's Labours

As if in confirmation, while I was preparing this paper I received the following good news by e-mail from WFP's Peter Casier about their recent successful integration of HF with VHF and UHF for automated wireless connection to the Internet for e-mail, copied and pasted here, by kind permission:


This is a good start for 1998!


The latest developments will make Deep Field Email within WFP faster, cheaper, take Email services into a 24h/day coverage and potentially give 'Email on every computer' in the major field suboffices


It has been about 18 months since WFP's first Email over HF radio DFMS (Deep Field Mailing System) was implemented in the Great Lakes Region (GLR). Since that time, we have deployed DFMS in the whole region and propagated the knowledge, trained and/or assisted people to install the same in WFP HQ and the clusters of West Africa, the Greater Horn, Angola and Maputo clusters (I hope I did not forget any). Today, also other UN agencies (UNICEF in particular), and WFP implementing partners (Oxfam, Worldvision, Norwegian Refugee council, to name a few) benefit from the same technology, connecting to our GLR network (and by sharing costs and/or manpower, making our network cheaper to run)
The technology was so efficient that, in Uganda alone, three commercial Email providers are now offering Email-over-radio services. More in Africa are to follow, for sure. When was the last time the UN developed some system which the commercial world found profitable and sustainable to implement it too? (grin) Today, we have taken DFMS one step forward, making it cheaper, faster, and providing better and more services to our staff and remote offices.

1. DFMS Plus: DFMS over VHF radio

DFMS Plus uses the same cc:Mail technology as our current system, but no longer runs over HF radio, but rather over VHF and UHF radio. This is a major step forward with obvious benefits. Let me explain: the WFP GLR now has about 55 Email stations in the network. We came to a point that within one town, there were multiple HF Email stations (one for WFP, one for NRC, one for Oxfam, one for UNICEF) all connecting to the same WFP network hub. Each of these stations required a considerable investment: about US$10,000 per HF data station, including radio, modem, electrical system, excluding the computer and printer. The HF data link is not really fast, and requires a rather experienced and well trained radio operator at at least one end of each link. Each of them had to connect to the HF E-mail server in the country offices. Waste of time, effort and money! With DFMS Plus, we can now connect Email stations using off-the-shelf technology available from the radio amateur world (a packet radio modem and a VHF or UHF radio). We can then run only one HF link to each location (called a DFMS Point of Presence), and link from there on, with cheap DFMS Plus stations. So e.g. in Gulu, North Uganda, no more need for NRC AND UNICEF AND WFP to buy one $10,000 station each. Only one can procure an HF station, the rest can link to that station with $1,000 DFMS plus stations.

A comparison:

Standard DFMS DFMS Plus runs over HF runs over VHF/UHF and higher baud maximum baud standard, 19,200 baud available $ 10, 000 for equipment $ 1,000 for equipment one link per channel unlimited users and links per channel proprietary protocol shareware protocol (AX25 packet radio) runs over Codan HF radio, Codan HF modem a wide range of radios and modems available needs large antenna small VHF/UHF antenna only needs extensive electricity needs a minimal electrical system system needs at least one radio operator per link no radio operator needed difficult to automate automation is standard covers thousands of miles covers within line-of-sight (typically 50-60 km) deployable in 4 hours deployable in minutes

Cheaper, faster, no operators needed, automated, what more can one ask? Well, it only covers shorter distances (typical 50-60km for VHF/UHF) links. But there is cheap equipment available, called digipeaters, which act as a relays, just like a VHF voice repeater. By linking digipeaters we can cover large areas. This technology is used by radio amateurs to build networks with thousands of 'nodes' covering all of North America, or Europe for instance.

Let me close to say that DFMS Plus technology can not only be run from fixed or mobile stations, but even from hand held radios (so we can send pictures not only from a car, but also using a 5 inch tall radio. hi!).

Maybe one question you will ask yourself: so we did not need to implement all these HF DFMS stations? Well, in most locations, we needed an HF station anyway for the voice/security communications, and still for every 'point of presence' one HF Email system is still needed.

2. 'Email on every computer' even for deep field offices.

Another problem that we faced within WFP was that larger field offices could still only send and receive Email onto/from one computer: the one in the radio room. This posed quite a number of practical problems.

Well, last month, we have deployed our first 'cheap' LAN in a field office, installed a cc:Mail post office there, and linked them up to the Country office. The honours went to WFP Ngozi as field office linking up by HF radio to Bujumbura. Note that Bujumbura in itself is linking up to Kampala using HF radio too (avoiding a potential US$50,000/month bill if we were to do this by telephone to Kampala)

3. Extending the service hours by automating the DFMS HF clients and the servers.

Up to a short while ago, all HF Email stations required two radio operators to initiate the link: one at the client (remote) end and one at the server (country office) end. This meant that email could only be sent when both radio operators where in the radio room.

Since a while, by implementing some simple HF network management procedures, we have automated either the server or the client, so that either one can call in, without a person being there at the other side.

Let me give an example: WFP Kampala's warehouse has a DFMS HF server station, which is unmanned. It is scanning the whole time. Any client can come any time of the day or night to pick up and/or drop Email. He just connects to any of the scanning frequencies of the warehouse. In the other way, UNICEF Kisangani ('the client') is scanning. WFP Kampala is picking up and delivering mail to them whilst there is nobody in the UNICEF office to monitor the link. They just know that 4-5 times per day, the email is picked up and dropped in..

Other example: Kinshasa's email is fully automated. WFP/UNICEF Brazzaville or the Secretary General's Investigation team or any mobile DFMS station in Congo/Brazzaville can pickup/drop email any time of the day or night, connecting to WFP Kinshasa. Kinshasa is linked to WFP Kampala email server via HF radio too, but also this link does not need manning in Kinshasa: Kampala picks up and drops their mail multiple times per day. In the evening, Kampala goes on scan, and Kinshasa can drop their mail. Practical, as you should know that Kinshasa is 2 hours behind Kampala, so we close 2 hours earlier than them!

Both the DFMS Plus, cheap LANS, and automating the DFMS services provide a new and better service to our users, I am sure. This way, it will improve the way we communicate, which, I hope, in the end will assist in WFP to provide a better and cheaper service in relief and development. Tell me this is not a dream! hi.

A happy new year to all,

For the Great Lakes Technical Support Unit,


Do It!

In closing, I'd like to express my thanks to all who have so generously given of themselves, contributed toward helping to improve connectivity in Uganda, the Ministry of Education and government of the Republic of Uganda, ISPs, equipment and software suppliers, donors, shipping and airline companies, and especially our team of dedicated volunteers, the nobodies who have astounded the sceptics by their simple faith, showing that if they could do it, using secondhand 386 PCs, anybody can. And that's the idea, isn't it, behind 'African Telecommunications - Strategies for Sustainable Development', show how to make it work in a down-to-earth practicable way. Do it!

Uconnect@uconnect.org www.uconnect.org



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