Imagine trying to piece together a wireless network with no manuals, sporadic and slow access to the Internet, inadequate tools, a shortage of supplies, and in the most inclement weather. The authors of a recently published book, "Wireless Networking in the Developing World" don’t need to imagine. They have been doing so for years.
In almost every village, town, or city in the developing world, there are people who can build just about anything. With the right know-how, this can include wireless networks that connect their community to the Internet. The book addresses what Rob Flickenger, the book’s editor and lead author, calls a chicken-and-egg problem: "While much information about building wireless networks can be found on-line, that presents a problem for people in areas with little or no connectivity", said Flickenger from his workshop in Seattle. The book covers topics from basic radio physics and network design to equipment and troubleshooting. It is intended to be a comprehensive resource for technologists in the developing world, providing the critical information that they need to build networks. This includes specific examples, diagrams and calculations, which are intended to help building wireless networks without requiring access to the Internet.
In the developing world, one book can often be a library, and to a techie this book may well be a bible. Access to books is difficult where there are few libraries or book stores, and there is often little money to pay for them. "Our book will be released under a Creative Commons license, so everybody can copy and distribute it free of charge. That doesn’t mean it is a ‘cheap’ book. I think it is a great book," stated Corinna ‘Elektra’ Aichele, one of the books co-authors who was recently installing wireless networks in Bangladesh.
The book has been released under a Creative Commons license, meaning that it is free to download, print and modify, even for a profit, as long as proper credit is given and any modifications or copies made are shared under the same terms. For Flickenger, who has already published several successful books, publishing a book for free has been an interesting endeavor. He explains, "the Book Sprint team felt that the need for a freely available collection of practical information greatly outweighed any short term profit."
For the authors, all of whom spend their time building networks in the developing world, their pay-back will be having a resource to hand to their beneficiaries. "I wasn’t paid and I don’t expect to earn money with it, though that would be nice," stated Elektra.
The authors, all experts in the field of wireless community networking, gathered in London for a "Book Sprint" last October. The book sprint was the brain-child of Tomas Krag, one of the book’s authors, and was to be the kickstart of a 3-month effort culminating in a finished book. The trans-continental team spent a week in the aging Lime House Town Hall near the Thames for a week, fleshing out the details of the book while sitting around a mix of old tables, powering their notebooks over yards of extension cords and with stacks of power adapters. Flickenger explains, "the idea was to get a hand picked, tightly focused team of experts together and aggressively work on a book project." The team wrote, edited, and have now released the 250 page manual in only three months. Though he admits it was difficult to motivate a team who was not being paid, especially over the holidays, Flickenger’s quiet persistence prevailed.
The authors also hope that by releasing the book into the "Creative Commons" that it can be improved, expanded, corrected and translated. Efforts are underway to translate the book into other languages and to provide it to those who need it most, the 5 to 6 billion who don’t yet have access to the Internet today.