Stage T
How the unconnected are connecting themselves

Short thesis

Half of the world’s population does not have access to the internet. Limitations in providing affordable services in low-income areas and innovations in low-cost communication technology have resulted in new possibilities for the development of affordable, locally owned and managed networks. These networks not only provide access, but also have broader development implications. In this workshop we will show how they work and delve into the opportunities they offer and the challenges they face in the global South


This workshop will consist of the following sections (with estimated duration):

  1. Introduction to and evolution of community networks in the global South (5 min)

  2. Opportunities and barriers from real world experiences

    1. Colnodo (, Colombia (5 min)

    2. Zenzeleni Networks (, South Africa (5 min)

  3. Demonstration of how the technology barriers are overcome:

    1. Solar-powered wireless mesh networks (10 min)

    2. GSM-based local cellular networks (10 min)

  4. Discussion on the social, economic and regulatory barriers and strategies to tackle them from experiences in the global South (10 min)

  5. Interaction with the audience (15 min).

There will be mainly two speakers during the session, sharing with the audience their experience with community networks in Colombia and South Africa. In the demo section the main speakers will have the collaboration of German developers involved in the technologies they use. In Germany, community networks, both WiFi and GSM, are not new. Freifunk is among the historical leaders of the community networks movement, and has made a huge contribution to the development of the software and hardware that most WiFi networks use around the world, including Zenzeleni. Sysmocom, based in Berlin, and Osmocom are also creating software and hardware for cellular community networks in the global South, such as Colnodo’s, as well as the networks recently showcased in an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: Am Rande des Funklochs (

Audience engagement is critical in this session, and so a big block is reserved for interaction. Depending on the attendees’ willingness to engage, this block can take place entirely at the end, or be subdivided into smaller blocks at the end of the each part of the session, or even by taking questions during each of the parts, especially in the demo section. One of the speakers will be constantly making sure the audience is engaged.

supported by BMZ