Connecting the unconnected: Overview of technologies to reach beyond communication barriers

12 Apr 2019 11:00h - 12:45h

Event report


The session was moderated by Mr Ahmad Ahmadian (Business Development Manager, NetFreedom Pioneers), who shared his personal story. He was born in Iran and later moved to Turkey where he first experienced good Internet speeds and saw how the Internet can change lives. He added that it motivated him to advocate for connecting the unconnected.

Mr Peter Balleis SJ (Executive President, Jesuit World Learning, JWL) talked about JWL’s mission to provide equitable high-quality tertiary learning to people and communities at the margins of society and in post-conflict zones. He mentioned that the current connectivity concern is not about the 51% but the 49% of the population that has no access. He showed a video of a project in Afghanistan where JWL is working with local government to provide local training. He noted that many people have smartphones but what is important is the technology with content.

Speaking remotely, Mr Olivier Alais (Project Director, Cybersecurity and Internet Governance, Counterpart International) shared his experience working in Burkina Faso and Mali, giving computer science courses, setting up rural computer centres and building community-based radio stations. Some of the technologies built and used included VSAT, customised computers developed in partnership with engineers in Silicon Valley and Wi-Fi antennas in plastic bottles.

Mr Mehdi Yahyanejad (Executive Director, NetFreedom Pioneers) emphasised that a big proportion of the population still has no access to the Internet. He highlighted a few initiatives to provide connectivity like the Facebook Aquila, Project Loon by Google, SpaceX, OneWeb. TeleStar, noting that they are good ideas but too futuristic. He shared a solution they had developed to allow people receive educational content at no cost. The content can be viewed on a phone and shared via local Wi-Fi. He added that 200 publishers provide the content, and the system currently has 500 users and a total of 5 million previous users.

Also speaking remotely, Mr José Redrejo Rodríguez (Software Developer, Learning Equality) shared their interest in bridging the educational digital divide. He shared that 1 in 3 people lack access to quality basic education, half of the world population is still offline and 400 million people could benefit from their open source offline solutions that run on low-cost and legacy hardware. He added that so far, 6 million users in over 200 countries had benefited from their systems.

When asked to comment, Mr Karim Lakhani (Chairman, Seva Communication Holdings Inc.) talked about WiDOX, a solution that had been developed to provide extended range and full-duplex wireless services to areas with limited connectivity.

Responding to a participant on the questions on cost and curriculum, Balleis SJ referred to the JWL solution as a humanitarian learning platform with no price tag attached. Yahyanejad and Redrejo Rodríguez confirmed that the educational content on their systems is aligned with the national curriculum, and Lakhani shared about a USD$20 smartphone that is on sale in Nigeria.

On the question about feedback, Yahyanejad stated that they constantly do impact measurements and seek feedback from users through a Telegram group chat and surveys.


By Sarah Kiden