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High-altitude Nepalese get webbed up

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Yak farmers in Nepal are using wireless Internet access to keep in touch with their families, thanks to the successful completion of a seven-year international campaign.

Wireless Internet access means yak farmers can stay in touch with friends and family. Five villages now have such access - and it got there before normal phone lines. The yak farm is two days' walk from the village and previously farmers were isolated there for long periods. Now they can send email or ask for help and are even starting to offer items for sale.

Villagers in Paudwar and Nangi are using the network to improve running of their tourist campsites and to talk to Himalayan Handicrafts - a website selling Nepalese goods. Farmers and workers at the campsites get access to laptops.

Nepal Wireless is currently collecting teaching materials and hopes to offer distance learning soon. They also want to give local people more control over e-commerce projects. They are also keen to extend the network to include another nine villages

The project started in 1997 when an Australian school donated four 386 and 486 computers. Local teacher Mahabir Pun wanted to get the donated computers online but there was no phone line to the village. He tried to get a satellite connection but that proved too expensive. A radio phone could not provide a good enough connection.

The project got a big boost after Pun's campaign was featured on BBC Online.

After the story on the BBC appeared, the village received two visitors (Jonni Lehtiranta and John Verrept) bearing a couple of Cisco wireless cards donated by IBM Finland. More media interest led to donations of wireless access points and Johan Verrept returned to the village to help. Other volunteers contributed advice and equipment too.

The network starts on a Linux server with Internet access in Pokhara, 22 miles away. From there, signals are sent to a radio and a solar-powered relay station 11,000 feet up a mountain, tied to a tree. This splits the signal and sends it to Nangi village and another relay station - also sun and wind-powered and 12,000 feet up.

This station sends the signal on to wireless access points in the three villages - Ghara, Sikha, Paudwar and Tikot. Tikot is 36 miles from the server in Pokhara and the last village to be connected. Students and schoolchildren all use the system for Internet access and email. To see the technical details of the project, or to donate equipment, click here ®

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