"One of the goals we have for the network is to help the villages generate some more income," says Shields. The high school receives minimal funding from the Nepal government and from private US contributors, and most villagers are sustenance farmers with annual incomes of about $100. Before the wireless network was up and running, Pun and a few volunteers set up an e-commerce Web site (www.himalayanhandicraft.org) to sell handcrafted Nepali goods as a source of income for the schools.
Pun hopes that with more technology, the villagers will have better education opportunities. Shields, a graduate student at UCLA who taught English classes in Nangi, plans to teach a C++ course via e-mail so villagers can eventually outsource their technical skills. Students are already learning how to use Microsoft Word and Excel, basic DOS, and QuickBASIC. A VoIP system that will allow remote villages to call landline phones is under development.
The sparse trees and occasional mountain between the villages and Pokhara caused only minimal interference with the 802.11b signal, but a troublesome 11,000-foot peak required the team to use three relay stations to redirect the signals.
Next time you curse a thick wall in your apartment for blocking your Wi-Fi signal, just be thankful it's not a mountain.