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Pakistan-US Science and Technology Cooperation Program                                                            
Phase 3 (2007 Deadline)

Technology for the Poor: Low-Cost Information and Computing Technology for the Masses in Pakistan 

Eric Brewer, University of California, Berkeley

UCB-LUMS Telecoms

Photo courtesy of Dr. Eric Brewer and Dr. Umar Saif.


Umar Saif, Lahore University of Management Sciences
Pakistani Funding (HEC):  $  96,000
US Funding (State):   $ 220,000
Project Dates on US Side: July 1, 2008 - June 30, 2011

Project Overview

This project involved a multidisciplinary collaboration between University of California, Berkeley’s successful TIER program (Technology Infrastructure for Emerging Regions) and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), as well as other public and private stakeholders in Pakistan. Efforts focused on transferring to Pakistan technologies that TIER has provided to partners in Ghana, Cambodia, India, Rwanda, and Mexico in its previous work. Specifically, the first phase of the project deployed, extended, and evaluated two basic technologies developed by the TIER program to Pakistan—low-cost Wi-Fi wireless mesh networks and “sneaker-net” delay-tolerant-network (DTN) protocols for networking semi-urban and rural regions. Dr. Brewer and Dr. Saif ultimately plan to apply the technologies to expanding telemedicine services for the Pakistani population, and to this end Dr. Saif has established a partnership with SEVA, a U.S. non-profit that facilitates eye care in developing regions, including Pakistan. During the summer of 2010, the Pakistani partners on this project organized two one-day workshops on the use of TIER Wild Links to train NGOs in Pakistan for setting up mobile health centers during the severe floods. Following that, the TIER Wi-Fi links developed by Berkeley were deployed in Pakistan in the suburbs of the district of Muzaffargarh to connect two mobile healthcare facilities with doctors in a Basic Health Unit (BHU) some 10 km way. During the 3-week deployment in September 2010, the mobile health clinics helped treat more than 300 patients.

Major Results

  • Set up a low-cost campus-wide telecom network at LUMS as a model for a "telecom-in-a-box" service that could be set up quickly in a disaster-hit area using off-the-shelf components and a solar-powered base station
  • Developed a new version of a network (JaldiMAC) that will enable point-to-multipoint networks that cost less than pure point-to-point deployments
  • Developed partnerships with Pakistani wireless company Zong Telecom and with NGOs in the Mozafargarh (Punjab) area to deploy and test various technologies developed under the project
  • Provided training to five Pakistani graduate students who successfully completed their MS theses on low-cost networking solutions between December 2009 and January 2011
  • Facilitated creation of new course offered at LUMS entitled Computing for the Developing World

Quarterly Update

Although not originally planned, the technical highlight of this project has been the development of a low-cost GSM base station, which is operating in development mode in Pakistan and as a pilot service (with FCC license) in Berkeley. The low-cost base station combines several technologies to reduce the overall cost by at least 10 times. The prototype requires only 40 watts of power, which means it is possible to use solar or wind power rather than a very expensive diesel generator. This saves not only the cost of the generator, but also the ongoing costs of fuel and refueling trips. The system is also light in weight, so the base station can easily be placed on a hillside, which greatly improves coverage and eliminates the need for a large transmitting tower (typically costing $5,000 or more). As part of the project, the Pakistani side received GSM equipment from Berkeley, which is being tested in their lab in Lahore. A key goal for their team is to get GPRS working on the OpenBTS base station. The Berkeley team has been operating the base station for several months, and at the time of the final report (December 2011) was on their second experimental FCC license (each one lasts six months). The Pakistan network uses the same band, although deployment there will require a more complex spectrum license, which they hope to get from Zong Telecom. Dr. Brewer and Dr. Saif report that this project is continuing despite the end of this grant, due to its great potential and the mutual excitement of both sides about the possible impact. They remain in regular contact as they work on joint development of the GSM base station with U.S. and Pakistani students, and they are actively seeking new funding from USAID, NSF, and other sources to enable a large-scale trial.

Progress Report Summaries

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2011 Download final report

2010 Show summary || Hide summary || Download full report

2009 Show summary || Hide summary || Download full report

2008 Show summary || Hide summary || Download full report

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