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Goat*Net: Bleating Edge WiFi Mesh Networking from Inveneo

By Wayan Vota on April 1, 2010

The WiFi hackers at Inveneo, famous for their long-distance network in Haiti, are piloting a new Internet connectivity solution that they hope will bring Internet access to currently unreachable corners of rural Africa. Deploying collar-mounted wireless transceivers on a herd’s worth of goats, they’ve created a mobile, self-healing, self-configuring network they’ve dubbed the Goat*Net.

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Rural WiFi challenge

Rural Africa suffers from two distinct disadvantages that hinder the easy and affordable provision of Internet access – long distances between users and no electrical infrastructure. One possible solution to these challenges often employed by Inveneo is long-distance WiFi.

Even WiFi has its limits, though. On a recent trip to Ethiopa, Inveneo found rugged terrain and highly mobile populations would make a standard WiFi deployment difficult or impossible. Transient herdsmen rarely stop at one location for an extended period of time and often wander in and out of coverage areas of traditional networking solutions.

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The challenge became how to give these herdsmen access to the same benefits of information and communication technologies (ICT) as Africa’s more stationary populations.

Goat*Net: Bleating Edge Rural WiFi

While conducting a site survey of the environment and ICT needs of Afar goat herders in the Ethiopian Danakil Desert, Inveneo Project Engineer Andris Bjornson was hard pressed to come up with a traditional WiFi solution that worked:

“The rolling hills and many tall trees were making it difficult to find lines of sight that would make the network feasible”

One hot afternoon while pausing for a mishkaki snack, Andris had an intriguing thought – why not build a mobile WiFi mesh network using goats? This was the start of Goat*Net.

A mesh network is different from more traditional networks because each mesh node acts as an independent router. A mesh network continuously reconfigures or “heals” itself – finding ways around broken or blocked paths.

Inveneo paired Ubiquiti PicoStations mounted on the collars of goats with stationary Ubiquiti Airmax sector antennas to form a grazing, wandering, self-healing mobile network. As goats wander from ridgetops to valleys, the network continually adapts routing to find the best paths back to the stationary antennas and eventually to the Internet.

Currently, the PicoStations are powered by long-life rechargeable batteries, but Inveneo is investigating a biogas power solution, enabling the devices to be powered by waste methane produced by the goats.

Goat*Net has had a huge impact on the lives of Afar goat herders, bringing the community into the modern world. As one was quoted as saying:

Goat*Net has brought real change to our community. We can now get CBOT spot prices for nyama choma

Inveneo is excited to push this new technology even further as part of its Goat Ahead ProgramTM to bring technology to ewe. According to Inveneo CIO Mark Summer:

“We’ve already been able to do so much with just 50 goats in a network, but that’s just a start. We have plans to scale up to a full 1 kilogoat next year. As wireless radios shrink further and prices come down, the dream of a full megagoat network could be realized within 5 to 10 years.”

Filed Under: Connectivity
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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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6 Comments to “Goat*Net: Bleating Edge WiFi Mesh Networking from Inveneo”

  1. Dej says:

    This is an April Fool’s joke worthy of Google.

  2. sebastian says:

    wonderful!

    and the best thing about it: it might even make sense …

    details to be discussed … 😉

  3. free-burma says:

    HI ICTWORKs Team,

    I really like all your posts and your works. Thumb up!

    regards,

    free-burma

  4. Chris Burley says:

    Beyond chewing up and digesting phone books, blackberries (the bush!), coyote bush, and shoes I never imagined goats would be making a network. I love the ingenuity, inventiveness, and willingness to integrate solutions into local habits you guys have. Brilliant all around!

    Hooves up!,
    Chris

  5. Sam452 says:

    I love this idea! I still don’t understand where the backbone come into play.

  6. Wayan Vota says:

    Israeli donkeys get WiFi-equipped for historical theme park

    It’s WiFi for your ass — the animal kind — and it’s only available in Israel. Yes, as unreal and inappropriate as that proposition may seem, an historical amusement park located in the Middle Eastern country will offer tourists the opportunity to tweet, email and upload photos on-the-fly from the back of a burro.

    http://www.engadget.com/2012/08/21/israeli-donkeys-get-wifi-equipped-for-historical-theme-park/