Installing the Internet on Idjwi

After prototyping in Scotland, we discovered we needed four additional Ubiquiti Powerbeam M5 antennas for the two shorter 5km internal links within the island required to get the signal from the entry point (a mountain top near Kibanda) via another highpoint, Bulega, to our planned kiosk in Bugarula.

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Mick Hicks from Cromarty Firth Wireless helped us understand the settings we would require in order to pre-program the antennas before arranging for them to be packaged and shipped over and helped us source the antennas, access points and Ubiquiti TOUGHSwitches.

Networking and travel

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Working with Innocent from Liason Congo, our internet providing stakeholder in Bukavu, and Fanus, our Fjord London studio IT legend, we spent several days ensuring all the IP addresses and ports were pre-programmed, and that our ethernet cabling, access points and switches were properly grounded, before everything was packed into boxes.

6 x 60kg cases of equipment went with Mike to London Heathrow, where he had to unpack and re-pack every one of them for UK customs on the tarmac.  Not all the boxes made it on time to Kigali, Rwanda via Nairobi, Kenya, but after a wait for the next flight, all the equipment was together. Difficult conversations with Rwandan and Congolese customs followed so that by the time Mike and Anders reached Bukavu, it was in the middle of the night, in the middle of a rain storm.

Construction

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Meanwhile, Patrick had been arranging for kiosk and mast construction on Idjwi.  Thanks to a huge collective effort between landowners, local labour & a horde of keen volunteers and onlookers, all managed by Patrick, the welding, building & shipping across Lake Kivu was running smoothly.

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A slight hiccup occurred when the owner of the mast in Bukau refused to allow us to use one of our Rocket-5G34’s, saying it was too big for the mast. Luckily a lighter, substitute antenna was miraculously sourced by Innocent.

Erecting the masts

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Mike and Anders shipped the equipment on the “Tin Can” boat over to Idjwi, a 14 hour sail for a 70km journey, and began joining the work already underway.

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It was lovely to see the crowds of local people looking on, and our masts also received a blessing of beer from the local pastor.

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Chuka, Fanus and Euan were on-call in the UK to assist on networking and settings, while Anders performed multiple moped trips back and forth between the Idjwi Hotel, and Kibanda and Bulega mountains.

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After several days of incredible patience and tweaks we finally got the signal we needed, a super strong one, from Bukavu, all the way to Bugarula.

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With the internet “backhaul” all joined up, the internet “pipe” had made it all the way to the public in Idjwi.  Our next challenge was to install the access points and kiosk in Bugarula, making internet access possible.