Zim WiFi:Project Progress

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Progress May - June 2007

Project highlights

  • The sourcing of wireless equipment, which presented challenges in the previous period, has been resolved through a local vendor for Trendnet wireless gear. They had both equipment in stock and technical support expertise readily available for all the projects needs. However some of the equipment was expensive compared to sources in South Africa and the project had to secure part of the kit from Johannesburg
  • The infrastructure provider PowerTel, installed customer premise equipment (CPE) at Kwayedza Secondary School but could not do the same at Mhuriimwe School because of a forest of blue gum trees that blocked line-of-sight. A further installation “feast” involving all stakeholders, was done through collaboration and knowledge exchange in configuring the basic settings, IP settings, security settings on the wireless air bridge. This also involved mounting the radio on top of the 60m high radio mast and was a dizzy experience for the riggers
  • The project sought an additional 6 months no-cost extension to December 2007 for two reasons. Firstly to allow for completion of the project, which has faced delays in procurement of hardware and the institutional processes of patient engagement required in a such a multi-stakeholder project implementation and secondly to synchronize end points with the broader FMFI initiative which has extended to December 2007


Monitoring Reports

Establish collaborative arrangements with partners
  • Collaborative arrangements with boundary partners have been documented through MoUs.
Develop a framework for school WiFi roll out
  • Selection of schools was completed.
  • The process of securing equipment for one school has been done and installation of the data layer of the network completed. Final testing and commissioning of the infrastructure is planned for July
  • Part of the wireless equipment for the second school has been purchased and the complete equipment will be secured once the question on clearing the blue gum trees is resolved. Failing this, another school in the area will be approached
  • The project will engage PowerTel to provide access through their Point-of-Presence switch to the internet. The radio on the tower broadcasting to Kwayedza School has a UTP (Ethernet) cable ready to be plugged into their backbone network
  • ZARNet, the internet gateway partners, are equally waiting to open up their router and provide gateway access to the Kwayedza School radio. This is planned for July
Build capacity of teachers to use the setup to access the internet for communication and accessing other knowledge resources

WorldLinks, the ICT in education training partner is finalizing the Internet and Email Training Essentials course to run at the schools. The strategy is to train the teacher’s first then take the students through the same course

Influence policy on ICT in education
  • A letter has been sent to Potraz, seeking authorization to use the ISM band to carry data for schools connectivity. This was in accordance with the discussions held on the 3rd of April 2007 with the Director General Mr. Chindoori and his colleagues and their indication then was that if it is only for school use, and for a pilot period, then the project can go ahead in rolling out the demonstration. We are waiting for their response to the request so that the project can file it as part of our documentation
  • The question of what happens in the future in relation to the use of the 2.4Ghz for school networking is being addressed through ZARNet who want to continue with these wireless implementations if this pilot can prove a case for low cost connectivity into schools


Challenges

  • The main challenge was organising all the technical partners to be available for the installation of the wireless equipment. It took 3 attempts over three weeks before every partner could provide sufficient time towards this stage of the work
  • The price of wireless equipment can be intimidating when converted into the local Zimbabwe currency. The cost of the equipment bought from the local vendor translated to 3 times the cost when bought in South Africa. Importing part of the inventory is a reasonable option


Next Steps

  • Secure connection onto the PowerTel infrastructure
  • Get internet connection through Zarnet Gateway
  • Train teachers and students about wireless connectivity (Cantenna building) and how to use the internet and access email
  • Complete installation at Mhuriimwe School after dealing with the line of site problem around surrounding the blue gum trees or alternatively focus on a different school
  • Collate material for preparing policy primer on Wireless Connectivity options for ICT in education


Progess March - April 2007

Part of computer lab at Kwayedza School

Project highlights

  • Initial visits were made to the two schools that were selected, Kwayedza and Mhuriimwe Secondary School in Highfields suburb in Harare, introducing the project to the heads of staff and carrying out a preliminary technical site survey site-survey
Taking inventory of equipment with a teacher at Mhuriimwe School
  • The backbone Infrastructure provider to the project PowerTel carried out line-of-sight tests on the two locations. At one of the schools there is a clear line-of-sight and radio tests were successful. At Mhuriimwe on the other hand there was no clear line of sight because of over grown blue gum trees between the school and the tower
  • A successful meeting with the Postal and Telecommunication Regulator of Zimbabwe (Potraz) was held on the 3rd of April 2007 were initial consent was given to the project to use the ISM 2.4 GHz frequency band for data use in a school environment for the duration of the projects pilot period. A formal letter of request has been written to Potraz documenting the merits of using the frequency band and the project is waiting for a written response with the authorization


Monitoring Reports

Establish collaborative arrangements with partners
  • This output has been implemented and collaborative arrangements with boundary partners have been documented through MoUs. (See Jan/Feb 2007 report and work plan appendix 1)
Develop a framework for school WiFi roll out
  • The task of selecting schools was completed
  • The process of securing equipment has not been as smooth as was expected. The vendor that was requested to give quotations for specific gear has been unable to give a quote timeously
  • Building the first mile and first inch wireless infrastructure will proceed after the correct equipment has been secured
Build capacity of teachers to use the setup to access the internet for communication and accessing other knowledge resources
  • Still to be implemented after wireless equipment is set up
Influence policy on ICT in education
  • A discussion with the regulator on authority to use the ISM frequency band for school connectivity has been positive. The current regulatory regimen strictly forbids use of the 2.4 GHz outside the Industrial Scientific or Medical arena but the case the project made was that connecting schools is a public good, which should be seen in the context of universal access. Potraz are prepared to authorize the use of the frequency band during the pilot phase but will require a business case made for a national roll out if this authorization is to be made permanent


Challenges

  • Securing wireless equipment is taking an inordinate amount of time from the vendors. The main challenge is importing the equipment from South Africa which requires the vendors to access limited foreign currency.
  • PowerTel had to use old radios (operating at the IEEE 802.11b standard) to carry out site survey test because the project could not secure the appropriate radios on time.


Next Steps

  • Buy appropriate wireless equipment
  • Deploy the resources and connect last inch bridge
  • Get internet connection through Zarnet Gateway
  • Train teachers and students about wireless connectivity and how to use the internet and access email
  • Write a policy primer on wireless connectivity for schools


Progress January - February 2007

Project highlights

  • Funding for the project was successfully secured in the last week of December 2006 from IDRC
  • The process of engaging with boundary partners has created expectations within the technology community around the potential of using the ISM 2.4 GHz for first mile and first inch data connection into schools
  • The school selection process has revealed a disparate and heterogeneous approach to school networking solutions and requires that instructive policy/guidelines are issued to ensure adoption of standard best practices
  • The use of the ISM band in Zimbabwe is subject to regulatory capture and the project is working through partnerships to bring debate around the use of WiFi for social good cause’s in particular low cost Internet access to schools
  • The working through partnerships and networks is facilitating an accelerated project build out
  • HIVOS has been approached to provide co-funding for the project to facilitate expanding the initiative to an additional school


Monitoring Reports

Establish collaborative arrangements with partners
  • With the confirmation of IDRC funding Connect Africa, entered into MoUs with the Zimbabwe Academic Research Network (Zarnet) an Internet Service Provider in schools and with World Links Zimbabwe the school networking service provider in Zimbabwe. Both have very strong credentials in the ICT for education sector in the country and they see this wireless First mile First Inch project as complimentary to their current work. Each has expressed a desire to understand the technology/process role out for other assignments within their portfolio and have shown commitment to working on this project
  • Other boundary partners that have been engaged are the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture (MoESC) through the District Education Officer (DEO) of HighGlen District, PowerTel through the Director of Operations, Postal and Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) through the Director General and Arachnid (a private sector vendor of wireless last inch gear)
Develop a framework for school WiFi roll out
  • The location for the project was selected as the Highfields suburb of Harare because it provides close proximity to infrastructure resources (Internet points of presence, regulatory observation, minimized travel costs) to successfully show case the utility of WiFi Internet Connection for schools
  • There are 9 secondary schools in the district and all of them were interviewed during the selection of participating schools. This task was carried out in partnership with World Links – Zimbabwe and a questionnaire needs assessment and selection criteria were developed and two schools Kwayedza Secondary School and Mhuriimwe Secondary School identified as potential candidate schools. At the point of writing this report the schools had not yet been notified of their successful consideration because we need to have written certainty that PowerTel can successfully provide the project with low cost broad band connectivity to the location. Site survey and link budgets need to be successfully carried out by PowerTel before the decision is shared with the schools, at the risk of raising expectations
  • A physical network diagram has been prepared by the project and shared with PowerTel. They have subsequently developed a preliminary proposal by indicating the availability of an alternative tower (HighGlen tower instead of the Southerton tower) and access point but will only complete a full technical proposal and cost proposal for consideration during a scheduled meeting for March 16, 2007
  • The gear for the local area networking can be secured from the local vendor and the project will engage the supplier for a quotation of the radio router, USB network cards and service costs
Build capacity of teachers to use the setup to access the internet for communication and accessing other knowledge resources
  • This initiative will be implemented subsequent to the deployment of the internet connectivity.
Influence policy on ICT in education
  • The MoESC has been brought into the initiative as a partner and because they are the custodian of the education sector. This will give the project a platform to prepare and present a policy primer on options for school networking. The current ICT in Education policy is not descriptive nor detailed enough to inform any school on how they can go about securing connectivity
  • POTRAZ has indicated that the use of the ISM band can proceed for the pilot phase for the two schools but they would like a proposal on what will happen after the project is demonstrated. The project will be assisting ZARNET to make a business case for using the ISM band for school connectivity post project implementation and this is an exit strategy that will sustain itself beyond the project life
  • Working with PowerTel provides the project with an opportunity of using their infrastructure and getting a discounted rate for Internet connectivity. This e-rate has not yet been fully agreed upon but a model calculator will be developed to ensure schools get Internet at a fraction of the costs compared to private or public sector connectivity costs


Challenges

  • The process of getting the policy environment ready for the project is a slow process and requires patience and understanding. It involves negotiations, explanations and presentations. This is particularly so with reference to using the ISM band which is a regulatory mine field in that POTRAZ banned use of the 2.4 GHz for any other use apart from ISM. However the project through ZARNET has successfully engaged POTRAZ on the matter and we will lobby to secure a much more permanent arrangement on the use of the ISM band for school Internet
  • The resources available for the project are limited. We have approached HIVOS to co-fund part of the policy research and training in the use of the Internet in the schools


Next Steps

  • Work with PowerTel to conclude the WiFi solution and get cost indications for the connectivity and infrastructure build out
  • Share selection decision with schools
  • Purchase wireless LAN radio router and cards for computers