By Xeni Jardin
02:00 AM Aug, 18, 2006
DHARAMSHALA, India -- Organizers of a community wireless mesh network in Dharamshala, India -- the hometown-in-exile of the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees -- say they want to "unwire" more Tibetan exile communities and other unconnected spots in the developing world.
And to jump-start that plan, they plan to -- what else? -- network.
Click here for extensive photos of Tibet's mesh network.
In October, the Tibetan Technology Center will host the Air Jaldi Summit for wireless community developers from around the world.
Expected to attend is Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman and Wi-Fi pioneer Vic Hayes.
"We want to show people that it's possible not only to build out this kind of technology at low cost in developing areas, but that it's possible for the community to really integrate it into their lives," said Yahel Ben-David, a one-time Silicon Valley dot-commer who left his native Israel to build Dharamshala's mesh network.
October's summit will be less of a who's-who and more of a how-to, says organizer Oxblood Ruffin, who is a member of underground computer security group Cult of the Dead Cow.
In addition to representatives from Intel, Cisco and wireless activists from Europe, "Some sherpas from Nepal are coming," says Ruffin. "I'm trying to make the panels as diverse as possible, mixing grassroots activists, techies and enterprise folk in each."
Presenters will include wireless advocate and University of Limerick President Emeritus Roger Downer and Dave Hughes, who brought internet connectivity to the base of Mt. Everest.
"We want at least some of the workshops to teach people how to assemble and deploy mesh routers, then we're going to go put them up in the region and expand the mesh," says Ruffin. "We want work to be left behind so the summit leaves a positive footprint on the region."
But the event won't be all routers and no play. Organizers hope to obtain a beer permit from local authorities and throw a Himalayan kegger, with DJs spinning tunes via iPod, downloaded from the wireless mesh.
The conference also coincides with Dharamshala's annual Miss Tibet Pageant, and the reigning queen is expected to sashay by during the proceedings.
Mesh network technician Phuntsok Dorjee, 29, says the group has successfully installed some 30 nodes in Dharamshala that connect 2,000 computers since plugging in the first antenna in 2005 when Wi-Fi was legalized in India.
Now, they're ready to do it all over again.
"Our aim is to build up a strong Tibetan IT force, and replicate this in other Tibetan settlements, in other parts of rural India," says Dorjee.
"This doesn't require big-time investment, it's very cheap compared to commercial equipment, and once we have the gear set up it's easy to deploy. The first time is the hardest, so half of our work is accomplished."