Low-cost wireless technology: The alternative to wired communication

Wireless technologies are one of the most important ways of addressing the needs of the African continent – a continent with the least developed telecommunication systems in the world.
These technologies can be embraced in critical areas such as health and communication.
Accordingly, the African continent should embrace low-cost technology and religiously use them to develop the continent. This is so because wireless systems have a special role to play in meeting data communication needs.
“The convergence of new technologies low-cost handhelds, broad and reliable wireless coverage and the innovative use of it have made applications that once seemed impossible in Africa a reality,” says Richard Fuchs, Director of IDRC's Information and Communication Technologies for Development.
Freelance journalist Andrea Rinaldi believes that strengthening low-cost information and communications technologies in countries within the African continent can help tackle development challenges.
“Low-cost wireless communications offer a practical alternative to traditional wired systems in Africa, and further development of such communications can help overcome research challenges on the continent, a workshop has heard,” Rinaldi says.
Accordingly, inexpensive, locally managed or owned wireless technologies can be seriously embraced in countries within and across the African continent to help overcome developmental issues. These technologies can help to spread ideas in different African communities and to promote climate change adaptation.
More so, use of low-cost wireless technologies can also help players in the critical agricultural sector in Africa to plan how to adapt to variable climatic conditions and assist with disaster risk reduction and management related to extreme weather.
Rinaldi adds, “Embracing low-cost technologies can encourage the development of ideas to strengthen existing initiatives and lay the foundations for future ones.”
For the continent to effectively benefit from low-cost wireless technologies, information on technical options and processes for establishing rural telecommunication infrastructure is needed. Much of the existing information on technical options for rural connectivity comes directly from vendors of telecommunication hardware.
While this information can be of significant value, it must be evaluated against objective evidence of technical and organisational sustainability and cost-benefit analyses.
Wireless technologies offer tested, low-cost options to complement conventional infrastructure ‑ but in order for the promise of wireless to be fulfilled, interventions are needed at a number of levels, ranging from policy, to technical development, to capacity building.
Consequently, African governments should invest heavily in low-cost wireless technologies. These technologies are not fully embraced because most people in rural areas cannot afford them.
Dr Jay Guo from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation asserts: “Rural Africa suffers from the lack of communication infrastructure. This is partly due to the fact that main stream technologies such as 3G, LTE and WiMax have been developed mainly for the Western markets, assuming high population density, availability of a stable power supply, and access to technologically trained engineers. Unfortunately, this is not the case in rural Africa.”
A communication infrastructure for rural Africa, therefore, requires the following: robust communications links, ease for installation and maintenance, solar-based energy source and low-cost.
It is critical to note that low-cost wireless communications infrastructure will not only connect rural Africans to the rest of the world, but also enable them to participate in the 21st century digital economy, and have access to digital services such as e-Health, e-Education and e-Government. It will facilitate the development of a transparent, inclusive and democratic society.
In a continent where power outages are a daily occurrence, African countries must harness solar-powered computers, wireless networks and telephones to help citizens compete in the regional economy. The low-cost technologies can enable citizens to surf the web, build databases, use e-mail and make phone calls over the Internet.


July 2013
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