April 26, 2018
What began as a testing site using a car battery has now become the first successful use of a portable network kit (PNK) WiFi access point (AP) in the Commonwealth of Dominica. PNKs are designed to use off-the shelf Wi-Fi equipment, which makes it easier to use and lower overall costs of internet infrastructure.
This installation would not be possible without the individuals at the Kalinago Territory Community Centre, where the PNK access point was installed using solar power.
What makes this deployment unique is that David Gibbs, a renewable energy and sustainability specialist, independently built his own PNK, based on the configuration that Resilient Communities has made publicly available via our online documentation, and trained five individuals to install and manage the network. Gibbs’ team members include Project Manager, Samoze Frederick, and local technicians Anderson Burton, Kyle Cabey, Ian Valmond, and Paterson Auguiste.
At the moment, Kalinago is using a configuration for a MikroTik router, a Raspberry Pi Micro Computer, and a single Ubiquiti AP. If multiple mesh access points are deployed, there is the potential to provide both a Wi-Fi connection and act as relays to extend the network. Ultimately, this will allow for a shared learning platform with learning capabilities to exist and marks the start of a community-owned network that can provide access to local services and/or the global internet.
The range between access points varies depending on the local landscape, but the PNK is capable of crossing 100 to 150 meters between units, and potentially further if the conditions are right. The PNK uses a Raspberry Pi server image to host apps such as WordPress, HackChat, Etherpad, Cloudron Surfer, and the UniFi software controller to program the Access Points. These apps are hosted locally, which means that they remain accessible even there is no present internet connection. These apps provide a wide-ranging set of services. Etherpad is a real-time collaborative text editor, Surfer allows users to upload and download documents to the Raspberry Pi using a web browser, Hack.chat is a minimal web-based chat platform, the UniFi Controller allows your network administrator to manage your local network, and WordPress, which is a powerful website publishing platform.
When an internet connection is available, the connection can be relayed to other sites within range to provide access to popular services such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, et cetera. Note that the bandwidth on the network is limited to the internet connection you provide.
Due to this initiative, the Kalinago Territory is interested in continuing innovative practices and is now in the works of potentially developing a WebPhone or SMS app that would allow for peer-to-peer communication throughout the community when the PNK is offline. The team in Dominica is currently mapping out more critical locations to include within this next phase, such as schools, clinics, police stations, and community centers. The flexibility of the PNK allows it to readily be introduced to areas in need of connectivity.