Deep in the jungles of West Papua’s central highlands, there is a village with its own mobile telecommunications network. That network runs in a box latched to the top of a tree, providing the only reliable cell coverage anywhere within a four-hour drive. This small setup has created a booming local mobile economy—and it could be the harbinger of a whole new class of private and community mobile networks that change the shape of mobile for those who have been underserved or overcharged by traditional phone carriers.
The single “tower” cell network is the work of graduate students from the University of California at Berkeley’s Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) research group, under the direction of Professor Eric Brewer—the founder of the content delivery network Inktomi. The group built its mobile solution with software developed in San Francisco and some off-the-shelf hardware adapted for the task. Working with the Methodist church-owned school Misionaris Sekolahin and local merchants, a TIER team led by graduate students Kurtis Heimerl, Shaddi Hasan and Kashif Ali gave this village of about 1,500 people its first local phone network—and a much-needed connection to the outside world.
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