Village Telco

At a Glance:
What is it? an easy-to-use, scalable, standards-based, wireless, local, do-it-yourself, telephone company toolkit
  • mobilised a global community of over 200 supporters / developers
  • on the cusp of launching a unique Open Hardware, Open Sofware meshed wireless telephony device, the Mesh Potato
What I’ve been saying Villate Telco and the Mesh Potato - a TEDx talk In September 2009 I took part in a TEDx event in Johannesburg. My presentation on the Village Telco and the Mesh Potato outlines the key reasons why I think this disruptive technology has the potential to take off.

Steve Song – The Village Telco – TEDx Newtown

What others are saying The Mesh Potato was most recently profiled in the December 2009 issue of Linux Journal. The article, written by Mesh Potato designer David Rowe, highlights some of the successes and the challenges we’ve faced in developing an Open Hardware device.
Where to find out more Visit the Village Telco website or join the Village Telco community
The Village Telco is an initiative to assemble/develop the cheapest, easiest to setup, easiest to manage, scalable, Open Source, standards-based, wireless local do-it-yourself telephone company toolkit in the world.  While the concept had a number of parents, it crystalised at a workshop in June 2008 at the Shuttleworth Foundation.

This workshop launched the Village Telco as an initiative but also led to the launch of a related initiated, the Mesh Potato, which is a low-cost, open hardware and software device for delivering VoIP over meshed WiFi networks.

The Village Telco project has active community of over 475 members who contribute to the conceptualisation, design, testing, and implementation of the Village Telco. The community represents over 30 countries with diverse areas of expertise ranging from wireless spectrum to hardware design to mesh network implementation and management.

Design Principles

As the project has evolved, the Village Telco has become increasingly clear on the principles that drive it. Here are the key design principles of the Village Telco:

  1. Get pay-as-you-go voice services right. Data services are a given on a wireless platform but the one thing we want to make bullet-proof is affordable, simple-to-bill voice services.
  2. Make a telco as simple to set up as a wordpress blog. Wireless meshes, least-cost-routing, etc. Let’s make as much of that complexity disappear into default behaviours that can be tweaked as the owner/entrepreneur becomes more comfortable with the product.
  3. Be as open as possible. This is more of a philosophical than a practical constraint. We believe we can attract maximum participation by making software and hardware as open as possible. We believe that Open Hardware strategies devices like the Mesh Potato can change the way people think about hardware.
  4. Break even in six months. The technology ought to be cheap enough and easy enough to deploy that anyone with a reasonable head for business could have recouped their investment and be making a profit in six months.

Village Telco and the Mesh Potato in the News

May 2011 Business Day – Spotlight on Rural Areas for Network Connection
November 2010 MyBroadband – Mobile Industry Needs to Re-invent Itself

Thought Leadership Interview with Steve Song in Africa Telecoms.

October 2010 Sjur Usken is interviewed about the Village Telco. Article is in Norwegian.
August 2010 Steve Song is interviewed by Ulrike Reinhard at MakerFaire Africa.

WebMadeMovies piece on the Village Telco in the Bo-kaap.

TechCentral – ‘Potato’ project to connect African villages

Memeburn – Mesh Potato device could dramatically lower connectivity costs

Tech4Africa – Mesh Potatoes Become Hot Potatoes – Orange Farm Builds Its Own Independent Phone System

April 2010 Radio Australia’s TechStream interviews David Rowe about the Mesh Potato and the Dili Village Telco – Tech Stream 047

David Rowe is interviewed by ITWire – Communications for the rest: Rowe and the Mesh Potato

February 2010 David Rowe is interviewed about his Village Telco pilot in Dili, East Timor – Australian Potato network feeds Dili’s communication needs
November 2009 The Mesh Potato is profiled in the December issue of Linux Journal. The article, written by Mesh Potato designer David Rowe, profiles some of the challenges and successes that we’ve gone through in bring the Mesh Potato into existence and soon into production.

VoIP Users Conference (VUC) – Steve Song talks with the VUC community about the Village Telco.
October 2009 ICTWorks – Village Telco: Rural Voice Services Business Model

LWN Interview with David Rowe – Open source hardware for telephony

September 2009 Steve Song – TEDx Talk on the Village Telco and the Mesh Potato
January 2009 David Rowe – A Talk on the Mesh Potato given at
October 2008 ICTUpdate – The Mesh Potato Network

Flickr images