step one: understand how PFnet works - ie. the technology


TEK = Time Equals Knowlege
TEK: An email based web browser

All PFnet rural email stations are able to search the Internet using a revolutionary email-based search engine called TEK, which has been developed by the Computer Architecture Group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The TEK Client (TEK stands for "Time Equals Knowledge") operates as a proxy on the user's machine, enabling users to browse downloaded pages using a standard Web browser. New searches are automatically encoded as emails and sent to the TEK Server, which queries the Web and returns the contents of resulting pages via email.

"The motivation behind TEK is that, in many areas, the cost of email access is significantly lower than full-fledged Internet access. Email is cheaper because it can be downloaded directly from a local Internet Service Provider (ISP), rather than requiring an interactive session over saturated international links ... email can offer between a 2X and 35X cost savings in many low-bandwidth areas"

Follow link to four TEK screenshots showing how search, queries and results works

PFnet has two key components. One is an Internet Café in Honiara (People First Internet Cafe), which allows residents of the capital city to access the Internet for writing emails to any location across the Solomon Islands or the wider Internet. They can also browse the World Wide Web in search of information, or post their own information to share with others.

The Café has been operational since February 2001. Now with 25 workstations ...

Internet Café in Honiara


The second and, over time, most important component of PFnet is the network of rural community email stations located in remote islands across the country. The stations are usually hosted in provincial clinics, schools, or other accessible and secure public facilities. Email operators assist customer to send and receive emails at a nominal cost.

The stations use a simple, robust and well-proven technology, consisting of a short-wave radio (already ubiquitous and well-known in the South Pacific), a low-end computer, and solar energy. The main factors considered were affordability, sustainability, usability, robustness and flexibility. The scattered and remote nature of many islands, together with the prohibitive cost of satellite options dictates the use of HF radio systems in most cases, although VHF and microwave may be used in certain circumstances. ...

On schedule, several times a day, each remote email station connects to the hub station in Honiara. At such time, incoming or outgoing emails are transferred between the remote station and the hub, and between this hub and the wider Internet. The base station has the capacity for up to seven different modems to operate simultaneously, giving a large total capacity of remote stations.

Doreen Savakana, operator of the first rural station at Sasamungga, Choiseul


The new Internet Centre has 25 customer terminals with Windows 2000/XP and Office 2003,consisting of 15 latest model flat-screen computers with built-in CDW CD burners, web authoring software, office software and all major browsers. CDs can now be burnt in a few minutes per copy, using several versions of popular burning software. We have a fast black and white HP laser printer and Internet access via a 64K dedicated line which will be upgraded to a 128K early next month.

STAGE TWO: distance learning centres connected with VSAT broadband Internet

these two stages are happening at the same time, commencing in 2008, by the look of it

The Pacific RICS aims to provide Internet access to rural and remote Pacific communities that are currently not serviced by commercial operators. The technology uses small 1.2 or 1.8 metre satellite dishes and therefore requires low power to operate, which means it can be solar powered. A ‘network-in-a-box’ server provides the networking capability that allows Internet connectivity, a laser printer, WIFI wireless access and computers networked via cables.

Ian will be establishing the 16 RICS pilot sites across the region. The first site was launched a month ago in Gaire, a rural community located an hour’s drive southeast drive of Port Moresby. The other pilot site in Papua New Guinea is in Bougainville, with the remaining sites in Cook Islands, Kiribati (2), Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands (2), Tokelau, Tuvalu, Tonga and Vanuatu.

The Oceania OLPC initiative, another component of Ian’s work for SPC, consists of a pilot roll-out where 5000 OLPC laptops will be distributed to remote and rural areas in the Pacific, connected through RICS. Pacific governments and private sector stakeholders, as well as non-governmental organisations and other development partners, are being approached to collaborate to come up with the necessary funding to obtain a minimum of 100,000 units, which will cost approximately USD 200 each.
Ian Thomson joins SPC as Project Coordinator for Pacific RICS and Oceania OLPC

PacINET2008 presentation on RICS and OLPC by Ian Thomson ( slides )
Selected technical information (see slides for economics) from Ian Thompson slides

Earth station in Hawaii
Pre purchased satellite bandwidth
î 16 Pilots, 100 “Public Good” sites, Commercial sites
î Pilots fully funded, inc VSAT, power, IT Network, operator

The SkyEdge VSAT terminal allowing analog voice and IP services

Other services
TV and Radio Broadcasts via SkyEdge
î Transmission of a Radio/TV program via the HUB designed for educational purposes to all or selected VSAT sites
î The VSAT receives the Audio Stream and converts it to analog audio which then can be automatically broadcasted via low cost FM transmitters
î Similar for TV

Other Services
Rural GSM solution
î GSM in a Box solution
î Low cost Local Radio Base station
î 30Kg, 300W power, pole mounted
î Can cluster sites
î Local switching of calls
î Stand alone or Connects to Mobile switch via VSAT

Other slides about OLPC

David Leeming bio which also provides excellent overview of evolution of the project as follows:

PFnet is a rural connectivity project consisting of an HF radio email network of "email stations" managed by remote and rural communities. Applications of information sharing and knowledge building are run over the network, including distance learning, financial and commodities, government, health and other information.

DLCP, the European Union-funded Distance Learning Centres Project in Solomon Islands, is an evolution of PFnet in that the distance learning centres are built on partnerships with the rural communities. The centres are providing a full spectrum of learning opportunities, including teacher training and upgrading, literacy training, technical and vocational training, financial literacy, civic education and continuing education....

A recent evolution of this work involves a wide area wireless network connecting schools around Marovo Lagoon ...

I have also been a key member of a small group of regional experts, now championed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, to design an Oceania implementation of the “One Laptop per Child” (OLPC, popularly known as the “$100 laptop”) programme. Click here for more details - and see the PNG and Solomon Islands pages for the most recent work. I am, as of June 2008, contracted by the SPC to coordinate OLPC trials in eight countries in the Pacific (see the previous link for details). ...

In a recent consultancy for UNDP I have advised on a strategy for an integrated ICT network in one of the Solomon Island's nine provinces, consisting of rural email stations, FM community radio broadcasting stations and VSAT-connected learning centres