Green Business Ideas: Mesh Network Telephone and Internet Company

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For eco-entrepreneurs, green business ideas can be found almost anywhere, and they don’t always have to revolve around a recycled, biodegradable, organically grown consumer product.

Giving people access to affordable communication and the ultimate knowledge resource, the internet, can help them to free up money that can then be used to make their lives more sustainable.

When open source telephony software and low-cost wireless mesh network hardware is combined with the need for a low-cost communications network, a green business opportunity arises. Enabling a more affordable method for communities to connect to the internet, and to each other, could provide the leverage needed for neighborhoods and villages to be more economically sustainable, and to gain more independence from large communications companies.

To build out a community telephone and internet company, it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel or develop proprietary software or hardware to put it all together, as Village Telco has already done the heavy lifting, with a system that can be set up in minutes, anywhere in the world.

The Village Telco initiative is described as “An easy-to-use, scalable, standards-based, wireless local, DIY, telephone company toolkit”, and as it requires no land lines or mobile phone towers to operate, can be used to deliver affordable communications wherever there’s a need for it.

At the heart of the system is the Mesh Potato, a low-cost (~$100) wireless mesh device that users can plug a regular phone into, which then can automatically connect with each other, creating a mesh network and extending the range of the system. Users whose telephone is plugged into a Mesh Potato can call any other phone on their network using a Mesh Potato, and can be operated as an ad-hoc system, without the need for any central infrastructure.

“The Mesh Potato combines the features of an 802.11bg WiFi router with an Analog telephone Adaptor (ATA). Each Mesh Potato provides a single fixed telephone line to the end user, and is connected to other Mesh Potatoes via a mesh Wifi network. Mesh Potatoes automatically configure themselves to build a mesh Wifi network, greatly extending the range of the network over regular WiFi. Mesh Potatoes have been carefully engineered to be robust to developing world environmental conditions (e.g. accidental abuse, weather, static damage, poor electricity supply) and are designed for low power consumption (about 2W idle).” – Village Telco

Taking that one step further, deploying a Village Telco Entrepreneur (VTE) Server adds additional functionality to the system, including internet access and network and billing management, and can be used to set up a business as internet cafe or for offering other telephony services. The Mesh Potatoes and the VTE server could be a great addition for entrepreneurs offering charging services or internet access, and could be powered by a solar PV array.

“For millions affordable access to communications remains elusive either because they live in remote areas where mobile telecommunication operators have not reached or because the available access is too expensive. The rapid spread of mobile phones is remarkable. However in many parts of the world high call costs mean that people have to make hard choices about when to use the phone.

In Africa the average person spends more than 50% of their disposable income on mobile services. Open Source telephony software combined with the latest wireless networking technology creates the potential for people to operate their own community phone systems. While designed for the developing world, the Village Telco has application anywhere where people wish to take control of their own telephone infrastructure.” – Village Telco

Find out more about Village Telco’s innovative mesh network and telephony solutions, and their deployments in the real world, at Village Telco.


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