About 80% of Americans have an Internet connection, while less than half of the Venezuelan population is similarly wired. But one Venezuelan scientist, craftsman and philanthropist thinks of digital information as a right, and has dedicated his life to providing this right to the rest of his country, through a little DIY ingenuity.
Ermanno Pietrosemoli, the president of Escuela Latinoamericana de Redes, has hacked together a hybrid of advanced technology from Intel and discarded scraps of metal in order to make computers speak with each other across mountain ranges. El Aguila and El Platillon are twin peaks in the Venezuelan Andes. They stand 382km apart. By no coincidence, this is also the world record for distance in wifi connectivity; computers on each mountaintop can stream audio and video to each other at a rate of 3 mb per second.
A wireless signal usually disintegrates when you move a few meters away from the transmitter. This is because the transmitter sends signals in all directions, dispersing and weakening them as the radius around it grows. But the magic of this Venezuelan invention is that it directs its signal to a single point, dramatically increasing the transmitter’s range.
Pietrosemoli’s DIY Internet accelerator looks like little more than a common antenna. It was not designed to break records, but to provide Internet to those who live in the most distant and inhospitable territories on the planet. The high-altitude Andes are actually ideal for experiments with long-range connectivity, since physical barriers and the curvature of the Earth itself can sometimes block ground-level wi-fi transmission:
"Mountains can be used as an advantage or towers can be built to ensure the communication line between stations. At times like this, the long-range web link solutions are really cheap because it is not necessary to install fiber or connect via satellite links," he says.
Pietrosemoli’s invention is open-source, and he encourages anyone without a Internet connection yet to use it: "We publish and circulate it to the maximum extent possible so it can be used in any community. This is technology that works, that has been proven and tested and needs to be disseminated".