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Gender Issues at Mankosi

newOne of the University of Western Cape researchers at Mankosi focused her attention on gender issues in the community and how they affected the Zenzeleni project.  Tigist Sherawega interviewed many women from the community, in particular those who live in the households which host the base stations. Although some do participate in meetings related to the project, many do not. For these women, the communication aspect of Zenzeleni is overshadowed by the solar-electric aspect.

phones
Lots of phones charging at a base station

The fact that a side-benefit of hosting a base station is LED lighting in the home, is a major improvement in the view of these women. However the responsibility of administering the charging of phones and collection of fees is a burden which falls mainly on them.

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What is Mesh Networking?

newThe basic difference between a traditional telecoms network and a mesh network is that the traditional kind consists of large, expensive central beacons or masts that each user device (like a mobile cellphone) connects to, while a mesh consists of scattered (small, cheap) nodes, each of which can connect with a number of others. A message spreads from one part of a mesh to any other part by passing through as many nodes as necessary.

Mankosi mesh network
Mankosi mesh network

In a traditional network, the beacons are usually connected to each other (and the world) by a “backbone” landline or microwave radio link. A mesh network may or may not have a “gateway” which is just one of its nodes which is also connected to a traditional network. Thus if one member of a mesh has an internet connection, it can be shared by the whole mesh. But the nodes still connect with each other when there’s no gateway – e.g. the Mankosi community can phone each other for free even if their internet connection is broken.

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The Way Forward

newIn mid-2015, the Zenzeleni co-op changed its name to Zenzeleni Networks Mankosi, in the hope that other groups would unite under the Zenzeleni banner.

Meanwhile, researchers at UWC are applying for funding to create an umbrella body which will service all the on-the-ground community networks which will be forming. They are also identifying sources of funding for such community networks.

In short, the sky’s the limit!

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