Linking the Gaps: The “Mesh Wi-Fi” System in Idjwi
By admin October 11, 2016

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The “forgotten” island of Idjwi, in the region of South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was subjected to an innovative transformation, which has made a significant difference in the lives of its inhabitants. The island lacks infrastructure, technology is almost non-existent and most of the 250,000 people living in the island live on just a dollar a day. However, since May, nearly 10,000 islanders have started to have access to free Wi-Fi, which is helping them to get information about health, news and of course the weather, that for the many traders in the island, is a turning point in their daily cross of the lake to sell coffee and fish.

The new Wi-Fi system has been created by Fjord, an innovation consultancy based in the UK, which together with a non-profit organization named Ensemble Pour La Difference, are implementing several initiatives under the name of First Light. The new system is known as “mesh Wi-Fi”, which starts with one connection and then transmits the signal through a series of masts. The real innovation is that the system does not require cables to be installed and the connection can be shared through metal antennae, usually homemade, that allow communities such as that of Idjwi to create their own mini network.

Interesting enough is the fact that the closest Internet spot to Idjwi was in the mainland, specifically in Bukavu, nearly fifty kilometres away on the mainland. Therefore, the main problem faced by both Fjord and Ensemble Pour La Difference was to find a way to connect such long distances through a system of antennas. In addition, there was the immediate need to find a place similar enough to Idjwi where to test the prototype before shipping it to Congo. Indeed, nobody would have expected that an estate in Scotland would have suited the requirements but apparently it was the “the ideal testing ground, thanks to the remoteness and limited interference from other signals and that the wind, rain and terrain were similar to those of DRC” the lead project manager, Patrick Byamungu, said.

With a successful test, the system was ready to be implemented on the island of Idjwi. Fjord was able to install the Wi-Fi system that shared the connection from Bukavu across the lake directly to the centre of the island. Needless to say, the new connection brought many benefits to the lives of the islanders. Among those mentioned above, people are now able to access to the latest security situation in DRC, which has recently seen clashes and according to Chatham House might be leading towards a new civil war.

Wi-Fi access is now available and free on Idjwi but there is a next step to be achieved and is that of sustainability. In fact, the project has to be made financially sustainable, providing free access to health information and news while charging an affordable price to browse YouTube or similar websites. According to Fjord, the ultimate goal is to hand full ownership to the residents. However, it will take time before people will get familiar with this completely new world.


For more information:

Wilderness Wi-Fi: the pioneering network linking Scotland with a Congolese Island

People Are Not Ready for the Future

Mesh Network for Village Internet Access in Brazil

Hong Kong protesters use a mesh network to organise

Bringing Internet to Idjwi






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