Networking for Communications Challenged Communities: Report from a European project targeting conditions of poor or lacking ICT coverage

 

Maria Kristina Uden

Lule University of Technology

maria.uden@ltu.se

 

Introduction

 

Networking for Communications Challenged Communities: Architecture, test beds and innovative alliances or N4C, a project funded by the EU 7th framework programme was concluded in April 2011. This marked a milestone of an effort that had evolved since 2001, when it took off from a local affirmative action project for women in reindeer husbandry. N4C was a STREP project aligned to the Future Internet Research and Experimentation initiative (FIRE). The designation STREP indicates the size and scope of the project: for N4C a total budget of five million euro, a consortium of twelve partners in eight countries and a three year project time. As indicated by its name, the project was set as an arena where social concerns would be expressed together with technical goals, or as put in the work plan abstract: The target of the N4C project is the deployment and testing of ubiquitous and pervasive networking for communications challenged communities in a manner consistent with an overall vision for a future Internet that can encompass not just users and applications in well connected regions, but that can also reach out to rural areas. [1]

 

The technical idea was to drive the evolving Delay- and Disruption-Tolerant Networking technology (DTN) towards practical usage. The architecture drafted a delay tolerant peer-to-peer system putting DTN to work with wireless transfer at short distances and mobile computers functioning as data mules for the longer. The choice that data transport would be organized via data mules was suggested as a robust solution independent of conventional infrastructure. The vision was to construct networking technology that remote and other communications challenged communities, would be able to establish on their own initiative; networks for local communications needs including internet access as a generic service. North Scandinavian reindeer nomadism was the original template inspiring this architecture thus, the focus on mobile nodes and nomadic behavior, but in N4C the scope was widened with respect to use situations and geographic areas, and generic and civic use was integrated with professional scenarios. The professional strand included collection of meteorological and environmental data for the purpose of surveillance, modelling and forecasts. Regular and frequent on-site tests in remote localities would involve local and community actors.

 

Another instrument was presented through the structure of the FP7 FIRE initiative, to create a federation of test beds in Europe. This indicated a continuing interest in tests and experimentation and one N4C aim was that at least one of the test beds built by the project would be of such a standard at the project end that it could be suggested as a professional test bed and thus as a component in this federation. It was also an ambition of the coordinator that local community members, would have the opportunity to gain from the development process itself, both directly from project participation and in coming stages from business and commercialization of results.

 

This note provides a brief summary of the project and its results, with comments on topics and sub themes that are of particular relevance for community informatics or generally user oriented systems and technology development. Detailed reports, software and descriptions from the project are available at www.n4c.eu

 

Delay and Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN)

 

Delay and Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) first evolved under the designation Interplanetary Networking, as response to challenges in space communications. The problem faced was of a straight forward nature. The need for communications and surveillance grows with the satellites, shuttles, spacecraft and vehicles placed in space. However, the distances become too vast, for a normal Internet functionality. The conversation, will time out before the round trip is made with the usual handshakes that, establish an Internet transfer. The time aspect is intrinsic in the Internet construction as such, not in networking in general. Technically, delay tolerance can be arranged in different ways. The reason for working with DTN has been described by Melissa Ho and Kevin Fall (2004):

 

[T]he DTN architecture provides a common framework and standardized approach to the inter-connection of networks that suffer frequent disruption, such as sensor networks, and offers the benefits of improved inter-operability and avoidance of duplicate effort in solving the problems of network disruption.  (Ho & Fall 2004, p.3)

 

The first standard document specifying the DTN architecture was published by Vint Cerf and associates (2002). By that time, it had become clear that the new standard would probably be of use also for situations and locations on earth that, shared the conditions of space communications, namely that they cannot provide short end-to-end delays and stable connections. Internet protocols used today, especially TCP, and also many applications do not work well on networks that do not match these requirements. DTN makes the exchange of data between the source and destination tolerant of time delays; if there is no continuous path from source to destination when the data is sent, the data can be held at some intermediate node (which might be any computer or server) on the path until there is a good path available and, only then, after some time travel forward towards the destination. Most importantly, a DTN network does not expect its connections to be fixed in time. This makes that it can cope with mobile nodes that have ever changing connections to other nodes and this character can be used, as in N4C, for establishing mobile networks. People, cars, helicopters and similar moving data mules that travel in the remote area actually take the data with them and deliver it to the next node in the network cloud. Movable data mules together with nodes at permanent locations form the DTN cloud. The connections between nodes are opportunistic: nodes communicate when they meet up; data is exchanged if it appears that this will bring the data closer to delivery to its intended destination. (Boznar 2011)

 

 

 

The conceptual context

 

Following the classification by Gurstein (2007, p.11) community informatics (CI) is about two things;

  • The application of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to enable community processes and the achievement of community objectives.  Among the areas of most immediate concern and for which CI is an appropriate response is overcoming digital divides the division between technology haves and have-nots both within and among communities.
  • Examining how and under what conditions, ICT access can be made usable and useful, to the range of users including excluded populations and communities and particularly to support local economic development, social justice and political empowerment using the Internet.

 

The assumption throughout the N4C process and the preceding stages has been that, increased scale as well as quality of knowledge society inclusion, is a sensible goal for promoting development in a community, and locally situated industries. This places the endeavour in the digital divide discourse and associated arenas such as those that developed in relation to the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS). The first stages of forming the DTN connectivity concept for the reindeer grazing areas were contemporary with the WSIS (the Smi Network Connectivity project that run 2004-2006). As such, they fit with the work place development tradition of the N4C coordinator, where a typical problem starts from an issue of technical, physical or social work-place organization and the research team seeks to identify constructive solutions.

 

The coordinator of N4C was Lule University of Technology (LTU). LTU is located in Norrbotten County, Sweden. Its location by the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia is included in the winter grazing land of a group of Mountain Smi reindeer grazing communities that represent one of the major forms of indigenous community organization in northern Scandinavia.  LTU was founded in the early 1970s, with the explicit purpose to become a motor for the development of the remote northern parts of Sweden. This marked a new era. Where it had earlier been held that a technical university needs a well developed environment to function, the hypothesis was now that through its presence the university would lead a remote region towards a more developed state. (Lane 1983) The mandate of the university directed LTU toward three areas: mining, forestry and heavy industry, relating to aspects of the regions large scale industrial regime where the state ownership of assets and production capacity was strong.

 

Soon however, a parallel process eventually was established as an institution within the university for ergonomics, action research and participative design; the Department of Human Work Science (HWS)[2]. Along with co-operation with leading industry, a persistent stream has been the involvement with groups that seldom have direct representation where research agendas are set and new technology developed. One example is research about cleaners work situation and participative design projects with cleaners.[3] (See for instance Kumar 2006, Johansson & hrling 2011) None the less, as described by Udn (2000) the direction of LTU to the given, large scale male dominated fields, has restrained other sectors of the regional economy, from access to the university as an expected motor for economic advancement. Udn noted that this is of specific concern in the sectors that involved the majority of the regions women and locally owned small scale industry such as reindeer husbandry.

 

The background of N4C as community oriented process

 

The N4C process reflects explicit strategies. Never the less, it was a coincidence that initiated the process leading to it. In the period 2001-2003 USA based Internet architect Avri Doria, was a guest professor at Lule University of Technology. She came to hear about representatives from a reindeer husbandry community talking about lacking ICT access in the reindeer grazing areas. This led her to suggest a mobile DTN network for their purposes.

Reindeer husbandry exists around the Arctic, with emphasis on Eurasia. The reindeer herder community that got involved in DTN development is semi nomadic. With Jokkmokk municipality as the main center they move their herds between locations up to 400 km apart during the yearly cycle. (Beach 2001) The herders access to ICT, such as cell phone coverage, is patchy. Not even radio broadcasts reach several of the camps where the families reside during summer,. At the other end of the access situation, in the winter homes, the herders may even be able to choose between different service providers and means of delivery for internet access, telephony, television, radio broadcast and so forth. It could be claimed that this should be enough. However, the husbandry industry as such is not located at the permanent settings of the winter homes, thus this access cannot be utilized as an integrated part of the industry routines.

 

One of the hosts for the meeting where the need for ICT was raised as a topic for common elaboration between the local community and LTU, was an affirmative action project for women in reindeer husbandry. The affirmative action was organized as a stand-alone project but on suggestion from the project workers, the gender studies environment at LTU ran an associated research effort as support. The co-operation aimed to strengthen womens working conditions in reindeer husbandry and their position in the grazing communities. Both social practices and the technology in use were scrutinized, in order to identify problems and associated potentials for more inclusive, effective and ergonomically suitable routines.

 

Though not targeted as a main component in the original work plan of the affirmative action project, from the point of view of LTU. participation and information and communication technology (ICT) was an important  theme. (Udn 2010, 2011) Shortly after Doria launched the DTN idea, the two women reindeer herders who worked in affirmative action started the company Tannak AB, to develop a system for distance tracking of reindeer. All along the founders of Tannak were prominent among the local community members, actively working for the placement of DTN research and development to the Jokkmokk area. (Lindberg & Udn 2010) Shortly after their assessment that taking up Dorias suggestion in the plans for further development opened up good opportunities, this was affirmed by the grazing community board. The continuation took place through research was Swedish nationally funded, EU Interreg funded and finally the FP7 project N4C.

 

Around the turn of the millennium herd tracking had become topical among the herders. In Jokkmokk community only, at least one other herd tracking project was already running at the time when Tannak AB was started. Though animal tracking projects generally can be expected to be run by men and to mostly involve men in the development work, Tannak AB as a company started by women, is not unique. In a grazing community in Vsterbotten County slightly south of the Lule-Jokkmokk region, two other Smi women have run a project with research support, from their nearest research institution that is, Ume University. (BBC 2008) 

 

The organization and partner group

 

An FP7 STREP project is organized through the formation of a consortium of partners each of which signs a contract with the European Commission (EC) that includes a work plan based on the previously submitted project application and a detailed budget for each partner. The contribution from the EC covers up to 75 per cent of the agreed costs for carrying out the partners respective tasks in the common work plan. The contacts between the consortium and the EC are channelled via the project coordinator which also has additional duties during the course of the project of continuously assessing progress and resource allocation. On an annual basis, the results and use of the project budget is reviewed by a group of independent reviewers assisted by the projects main contact at the EC, the assigned Project Officer.

 

The N4C Consortium included a mix of partners from eight countries. They were;

  • Three universities; Lule University of Technology (as Coordinator), Universidad Politcnica de Madrid (UPM), and Trinity College Dublin (TCD);
  • One major industry partner: Intel, via Intel Performance Learning Solutions Ltd., Ireland;
  • Six small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs): Spanish Albentia Systems S.A., Polish ITTI, Slovenian MEIS storitve za okolje d.o.o, Swedish Tannak AB and Power Lake AB, and Folly Consulting Ltd. of the United Kingdom; and
  • Two research and development institutes, both in the SME size range: Portuguese Instituto Pedro Nunes (IPN) and Norwegian Northern Research Institute Troms AS.

 

Additional to the contractual partners, an Advisory Board with predominantly non-European members contributed on a volunteer basis, with technical as well as social sciences expertise. All twelve project partners and staff had their own distinctive background leading to an interest and ability to work in the context of the future internet as designated by the FP7 FIRE initiative, and combining front line technical development with socio-economic goals. One example of the competence brought to the project by the partners is Albentia Systems S.A. This Spanish SME develops and sells WiMAX equipment and solutions with a technical edge in networks for remote locations. In N4C, their role and interest was to further develop this edge in air-interface technologies, to continue developing their range of globally competitive products.

 

TCD on the other hand is a hub for DTN research in Europe as is the DTN Research Group within the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF). Participation in the consortium from the Jokkmokk community was built around the company Tannak AB. Among the work specified for Tannak in the contract with EU via the N4C work plan, was the responsibility for informing the local community about N4Cs real life tests in their territory. LTU also employed their field test manager from the grazing community and Tannak AB employed locals on temporary commissions as needed. In Slovenia, MEIS d.o.o had a corresponding role, with the difference that more of its contacts were directed to professional and technically advanced environments, in line with MEIS profile in meteorological and environment surveillance.

 

The project work plan

 

The N4C work plan stretched over 36 months from May 2008 to April 2011. The total budget was five million euro and the work input corresponded to approximately 540 person months. It was organized in nine work packages (work package being the prescribed unit for work organization in FP7 projects). They were: Project management, System architecture, Pervasive applications, Software for DTN and opportunistic networking, Specialised hardware for DTN networking, Air-interface technologies, System integration, Tests and validation in two remote test beds, Dissemination. Tje bulk of efforts lay in establishing methods for electronics engineering, networking and computer science, along with standard routines such as simulation and laboratory tests. A smaller stream with business and deployment models was planned, which eventually became strategically more important and also more complex than had been foreseen. A seminar activity was to give space for topics of gender and minority concerns in technology development and the knowledge society context.

 

Applications obviously are decisive for a new type of network becoming useful. The applications set to be developed in the N4C work plan were chosen on the basis of active interest from project participants and the expectation that results could be reached within the project duration:

  • Web Caching, providing an analogue in the DTN environment to the current user experience of accessing web content in the legacy Internet 
  • E-mail   seemingly a well suited application however, this posed certain challenges to DTN including naming and addressing issues
  • Hikers PDA, envisioned as an assistant for services in communications challenged regions and a prime demonstrator for opportunistic routing mechanisms
  • Meteorological and Environmental Data Capture for autonomous operation in communications- and power-challenged environments at all seasons 
  • Animal Tracking, designed for local relevance in the Swedish test area that is, location of reindeer and other herds/cattle, and as a case for air-interface technologies exploration, in particular optimal physical layer strategies.

 

Resources were also reserved for developing applications as a response to interaction with user communities in the areas of the two N4C test beds. The Tests and validation work package gave the N4C work plan its character. Two real life test beds embedded in users every-day situations were to be developed starting from the very first months of the project. This element was central in the project technical methodology, at the same time as they were expected to provide interfaces with the local communities, companies and authorities in the test areas. As opposed to a methodology where the supposedly completed result is tested in a final validation, iterations between development and field tests were to drive the N4C progress. Figure 1 shows this central position in relation to technical and socio-economic goals.

 

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Figure 1. Test beds were built in Slovenia and Sweden, for networking experimentation and tests of applications strategically chosen for relevance for remote areas and communications challenged communities. The figure was developed by Elwyn Davies, owner of N4C partner Folly Consulting Ltd.

 

The plans foresaw six test cycles (three summer and three winter cycles in the three year project). The locations were decided already in the project work plan: The Kočevje region in Slovenia and sites connected to reindeer husbandry in Swedish Lapland, primarily in the Jokkmokk district. Both areas are mountainous, rich with forests and wild life and sparsely populated. At the same time they represent different climates, and their political history differs. While the Swedish Lapland site is the home of an indigenous Smi population, its local industry structure combines the traditional reindeer husbandry with forestry and hydro power production. Kočevje is a formerly closed defence zone of former Yugoslavia, which was depopulated as a result of World War Two. This region, with its stunning landscape, has not yet recovered to its pre war economy. At this point, a number of villages and homesteads are literarily overgrown by vegetation. Today, wildlife tourism is considered as an industry with economic potential, while forestry is well established and certain small scale farming has remained throughout the politicized eras.

 

Due to the differences in herding and community practices between summer and winter in the two sites, the winter tests built on other premises than the summer tests. In the winter, Tannak was host for tests on animal tracking applications, with reindeer of their own and family members herds, where they co-worked primarily with the Universidad Politcnica de Madrid. In Slovenia, the focus was on sensors and meteorological and environmental surveillance applications. A goal was that at least one of the test beds established during the project time would reach also a stable enough technical and managerial quality for being suggested as a component in the test bed federation that was planned by the EC FIRE unit.  In reality, especially the Slovenian site ran some test set ups continuously, without making a distinction between summer and winter cycles.  (Udn et al 2010, Romanowski & Bonar 2011)

 

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Figure 2. Location of the two main test beds in N4C.

 

 

The instrumental results from N4C

 

Overall, the range of results from N4C includes new technology for delivery of Internet or Internet-like services; integration and simulation platforms, and open source code for DTN; scientific and commercial results in the WiMAX air-interface technology area; contributions to the IRTF experimental standards; services and applications for DTN including one commercially implemented already during the project time (environmental data capture); transfer of innovation to new EU funded projects; a DTN test bed being suggested for the FIRE federation, and finally; business plans and implementation models for communications challenged community settings. The business model development served not solely for commercialization and deployment of project outcomes. Their instrumental use for the Consortium lay also in explaining and packaging the technical results in a manner that corresponds to the language in the policies behind the FP7 ICT programme, where goals of commercial competitiveness and growth play a vital role.

A majority of the so called foreground, relate to DTN routing, functionality and service delivery. Thus, a major result is the software developed in N4C and made publicly available. In sum, this software has proven functional; 

  • For internal communication within a local Delay Tolerant Network (DTN);
  • In transferring traffic back and forth between such a local network and the global Internet, and;
  • In transferring traffic between one local DTN via the global Internet to another local DTN. 

 

Albentias results in N4C counted unique implementations of WiMAX technology working in mesh connectivity, and with multiple antennas. The most appealing result was, according to the self assessment by the responsible engineer Javier Guillen, a field test in the south of Spain. A pilot WiMAX network including a repeater was deployed in coordination with a Spanish WISP operator to provide broadband access to real users. At the time of the N4C closure the installation had been working for more than six months and was still operating. (Guillen 2011)

N4Cs main contribution to the Future Internet is the improved prospect for network capacity and extending Internet access into regions that constitute challenging scenarios. The field tests provided an opportunity for a widened scope in the development work and thus to the accomplishments, as compared to traditional laboratory work.

 

A number of issues needed to be worked concerning testing and even in extending the range of what needed to be tested. For instance, while in a standard urban European Union setting it is a quite negligible issue that modern communication technologies are dependant on electrical power supply. However, setting up networks beyond the conventional infra structure and electrical grid, implies limited access to power as commodity. To handle this, the teams developed a range of approaches for power harvesting and power management in software and hardware set ups, including identifying potential problem areas, for instance where power saving strategies, are presently not available but should be researched.

 

One additional aspect of the instrumental results is the data gathered which has a value as input for further research. Data logs and other data from the tests are being posted so that other research groups can analyse the results. There may be an interest, for instance, to use the real life test traces for evaluation of DTN simulators. This is because real life experience from DTN is limited.

 

Thanks to an experienced leadership for the software development, a goal oriented plan could be developed that avoided the common mistake of producing code that after a project has ended is left without maintenance and without being accessible for further use. During the N4C project duration Trinity College Dublin kept a project code repository and this will remain maintained in connection to their continuing DTN research. By the project end they also transferred code to SourceForge which is a well known public repository. Also publically accessible  is the list of code and explanations at the N4C web site http://www.n4c.eu/N4C-open-source-code.php. A sub group derived from N4C started a project in parallel to the N4C closing steps, for developing an e-learning course about how to make use of the projects open software results (http://www.elearning-dtn.eu/index.html). The availability of the software produced was thought of as a central potential benefit of the N4C outcomes; it opens up for uses that are not limited to the participation of Consortium members.

 

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Figure 3: Example of a topology using three Nokia810s as end-user nodes stationed in the remote camp Staloluokta. This topology included four hotspots: one in a tent, two in helicopters and one on a mountain. The gateway to Internet resides in the helicopter base station in Ritsem. From Nslund et al (2010)

 

Examples make the technical accomplishments more concrete. Figure 3 depicts one test topology, in this case for the Hikers PDA application tested in the Jokkmokk mountain region. Here, by agreement with the owner, helicopters regularly servicing a number of reindeer herder summer camps were used as data mules transporting the network traffic to and from the Internet, via the portable nodes mounted in the helicopters. All the hardware chosen for the N4C Lapland scenario were small and low-cost computers, such as PDAs and Net-books. Two different types of computers were tested in the iteration represented in Figure 3: Asus Eee PC as gateway nodes and for end user DTN kiosks in the remote camp, and the Nokia N810 as the Hikers PDA (end-user node).

 

Using off-the-shelf equipment provides a time stamp to the tests, from the mere fact that the commercially available hardware comes and goes with time. But the hardware examples also gives, to those somewhat familiar with the technology, as end user or other, understanding of how a N4C real life test could be composed. The N4C architecture though, and overall the applications developed and tested in N4C, are independent from hardware choices. This goes also for air-interface technology such as frequency and protocols. WiFi was much used for shorter distances, but this choice was a matter of overall practicality not DTN functionality. The camp serviced in the example in Figure 3 was Staloluokta, and the Internet gateway was established in Ritsem, which is the end point of the public road and electricity systems and the site of a permanent helicopter station. Figure 4 shows a screen with a photo that was uploaded to Facebook during the test in question.

 

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Figure 4. View from Staloluokta transferred to Facebook via DTN. The helicopter data mule leaves the landing platform. Sent by Karl Johan Grottum, Norut, using the Hikers PDA and the NSIM email service for DTN developed by Samo Graič, LTU.

 

Tannak were responsible for organizing communication with locals for the test occasions in Sweden and, MEIS, which was also the work package leader, had the corresponding role for the tests in Slovenia. Among other involvement of Tannak, their co-work with the team from Universidad Politcnica de Madrid concerned development of animal tracking systems. Real life tests were performed in the winter season as this is preferable for animal welfare and fits with herding practices. The results include scientific accomplishments such as simulation tools, and product development of reindeer/animal tracking systems.

 

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Figure 5. Teams from Tannak, UPM and LTU during winter tests of respectively Tannaks and UPMs reindeer tracking systems in Sweden 2011, for which Tannak was host. The scene is a typical temporary reindeer corral.

 

Figure 6 shows one of MEIS test topologies, where regular car transports were used for data transfer between geographically distributed nodes. This idea can be used for networking where other means are not available, too expensive or otherwise not feasible, and can be arranged so that rural community services or businesses get added incomes for driving that would take place in any case. Figure 7 shows an example of data mule hardware instalment in a car. In accordance with technical preferences, requirements given by the natural conditions and the applications the teams worked with, DTN implementations (where applicable), air-interface, software and hardware choices varied between the teams. This richness in approaches enssured that N4C was assessed, by the FIRE expert group, as a project with true experimental approach, as opposed to the often recurring structure in ICT projects where the aim is to prove the efficiency of one solution only. (Udn & Wamala 2011).

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Figure 6: MEIS test topology in Slovenia, summer tests 2009. The network flow is arranged via physical transportation of mobile nodes in car, on bicycles and carried walking.

 

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Figure 7: Example of DTN hardware installed in a car. For regular use an installation would be made to cause less of disturbances in the use of the car. However, the photo offers a view of the type of equipment required for the MEIS solution.

 

 

Contacts with potential future users, or representatives of such groups, and the identification of concrete use contexts were expected to take place in all work packages, to a large degree via the real life tests. One measure of the accomplishments of the project is thus the feedback from users. Additional to the applications specified in the work plan, its design encouraged further initiatives along the way. Among the most successful applications or services developed in N4C, there are examples of almost text book cases of user involvement in need-finding and design (Sjursen 2009, Romanowski & Bonar 2011), see also (Gurstein 2010).

 

The merits of the former methodology are well described in the literature. However, an example will be shown here, that evolved from virtually the other side of the scale that is, from initiatives taken by technicians, to serve their own purposes. A principal example is the NSIM (Not-So-Instant-Messenger) which was developed by then undergraduate student Samo Graič prior to N4C, as a means to follow the propagation of DTN traffic in laboratory tests.  The procedure is straight-forward. One chooses a node from a list of known DTN nodes provided together with the network specifications, and sends a text message to it. (Nslund et al 2010, Grttum et al 2011)

 

In the last years summer test it showed, through self-governed use that the herders in the Staloluokta camp found NSIM useful in planning the major reindeer gathering of the summer season. In retrospect it is possible to see that the straight-forward messaging service reflected a well documented communication need among reindeer herders. Knowing when and where gatherings are to start is essential for each individual herder as they are crucial for his or her income generation and, the co-ordination of several herders is necessary if the effort is to succeed at all, for anyone. This has been commented on in classical reindeer husbandry studies from Smi communities by Beach (2001) and Pelto (1973).

 

Assessing the N4C process in this sub case, the merit of the project design was that it offered an experimental arena for representatives of the intended end users. This in turn emphasises the preparations; the technology must be dependable enough to be mastered independently by users and, a degree of trust must be there for the locals to spend time with the system. For 2010, the LTU team had also prepared the possibility to send SMS messages via the DTN link. From the users perspective this was an advantage as they only needed the telephone numbers as addresses, which they could retrieve from their mobile phones. There is no mobile phone coverage in Staloluokta but, people bring their phones along and use them when they reach spots with coverage. The LTU team  reported from the test in Staloluokta, one of the reindeer herders summer camps and also the site of a tourist station, which is run by a community association:

  • number of DTN nodes: 18
  • test period: 53 days
  • number of users: more than 60 (20 registered users, 40 guest)
  • supporting for platforms: Linux, Embedded Linux, MS Windows and Apple OSX
  • number of bundles sent out: 6107 bundles
  • bundle delivery rate: 89%
  • average bundle delivery delay: 2 days
  • in sum, the users on site sent out: 1359 Emails, 328 NSIMs, 167 SMS

 

Table 1. Figures from the LTU teams summer test in Staloluokta 2009 (Graič 2011)

 

 

These figures included both local Smi families and hikers visiting the tourist cabin in Staloluokta. Jokkmokk municipality, counts about 5000 inhabitants and covers 18000 square kilometres, which gives a density of 0,3 inhabitants per square kilometre. A test group of 50 people, a figure which can appear quite small for ICT end user application tests, thus translates to one per cent of the population.

 

Community test beds as inclusion instruments

 

In the context of community informatics, there is a specific relevance in the real life tests in that they make geographical places explicit matters of interest in the research and development routines. The experience from N4C is that more tests and more test areas were eventually included in the project work than initially foreseen, and that one of the test teams returned to the Lapland test bed immediately after N4C ended for one more round of testing. Overall, the conclusion is that the technical teams found real life test routines being of value for the progress of their respective sub projects. Considering the global lack of real life experience of DTN routing the gains in the DTN area may have emerged partly from a unique situation. Yet, the interest in real life tests demonstrated by the air-interface technology team through increased and repeated winter tests in Lapland, and the explicit assessment of the team leader Santiago Zazo(2011 a, b), confirms the intrinsic value of geographically located and community embedded testing as an element contributing to how this practice evolved in N4C.  

 

Though virtual networks and simulation will remain topical in computer science and network research, the N4C experience is not unique. In FP7 the Living Labs movement and Smart Cities initiative emphasise the material, and the socially and geographically located as productive in the creating of value for information and communication technology. Obviously, there needs to be an element of prosperity creation for the European Union at large in any FP7 project. See for instance the outline by Euzen (2011). However, the parallel ambition to support specific local economic development can in these types of projects be explicitly stated.

 

 In the FP7 FIRE context an ICT test bed is: a platform for experimentation for large development projects. Testbeds furthermore, allow for rigorous, transparent and replicable testing of scientific theories, computational tools, and other new technologies. (European Commission 2011) Among the FP7 ICT projects, the concept of offering community driven networks as test beds, continued already shortly after N4Cs closure. CONFINE Community Networks Tetbed for the Future Internet started on the 1st October 2011. Though the scale is definitely larger than what N4C anticipated (in the final steps CONFINE will be able to offer 20 000 nodes), the idea is comparable to that of N4C. Advanced technology environments, work embedded in communities, and this combination is thought of as a possibility to contribute to the socio-economic sustainability of the community or communities. In the CONFINE case, the potential starts in existing networks; one in each Spain, Austria and Greece. By adding certain technical capacity, CONFINE will boost them to a standard where they are useful for scientific experimentation. Another quality shared, is the real life emphasis in the self assessment of its scientific platform. Or, as explained in the official brochure:

 

The CONFINE testbed is being built starting from the federation of existing community IP networks which will be opened up to researchers and enabled for experimentation. // This is done on realworld IP community networks that incorporate a wide variety of wired and wireless links, nodes, routing, applications and users. (http://confine-project.eu/files/2011/10/Confine-Brochure_v3.pdf p.1)

 

At a conference in Brussels, September 2011, the CONFINE coordinator, Leandro Navarro stated his take on the relation between the research community and local communities. There are people out in Europe, who strive to establish communications for their communities, he meant, and encouraged the participants to lend them a helping hand. (Navarro 2011)

 

Having the Jokkmokk community in mind, Fransson (2011) suggested a co-operative or NGO based on broad local participation as the best route for realization of the local potential for a long term test bed activity, possibly with the municipality and other public actors involved through suitable arrangements. She also proposed that a community network for the remote locations in the reindeer herders territories can be installed under the same premises, partially integrated with a test bed. Concretely, a structure of this kind could include local companies and associations such as herding communities, the tourist service association run by herding community members, transports providers and other. In this light, both N4C and CONFINE can, as FP7 projects, and the Consortium mode of working that goes with the FP7 constitution be regarded as temporary NGOs. Franssons (2011) business model for the Slovenian test bed features a privately owned solution. This suggestion has been developed together with the company that will maintain and run it, MEIS d.o.o. With the two owners being PhDs, MEIS d.o.o. intrinsically is a knowledge enterprise. Above that they demonstrate a special identification with rural areas, for instance by deliberately having placed their office in a rural village (kofljica). Thus, the owners create for themselves and their staff, knowledge economy job opportunities in the countryside. In N4C they have also showed how transportation of DTN data, with cars as data mules, can add value to regular transportation and travel to and from rural areas in Europe. (Romanowski & Bonar 2011, Milestone reports posted at http://www.n4c.eu/D-8.4.php)

 

A result with relevance for geographic communities is the test bed offer for the FIRE federation. As initially mentioned one of the N4C aims was that after the project had finished, at least one of the two test beds built for the purposes of the project should be offered to the federation of test beds which in turn is a goal of the FIRE initiative. For N4C Fransson (2011) developed a three level model for test bed continuance after N4C:

Level 1: A research test bed platform on similar level as during the N4C FP7 project

Level 2: A small scale test bed for present research partners and for a few new clients

Level 3: A large scale federated test beds in collaboration with FIRE network

 

The term scale is here to be understood in the context of real life DTN, which is quite another case than the hundreds or thousands of nodes that are the expected level of what is typically meant by large scale facilities. In the N4C offer to the FIRE federation, the Slovenian test bed was offered as level 3. The Slovenian test bed will be run by the N4C partner MEIS, which is a company that already sells services that require a high level of technical and organizational precision. Contacts were established by MEIS directly with the One Lab consortium before the N4C ended, including plans for strategies to follow up on their desired outcomes.

 

The European Commission's plans for federation require services where the technical and procedural specifications and performance are guaranteed by the test bed owner. Furthermore, for a commercially viable test bed with the capacity to cut costs for the customer, as is the main idea behind the test bed concept (such as investments in equipment, staff training, travel) a stable and advanced technical and management standard is needed. The Swedish test bed was set to continue as a level 1 test bed, with nearest probable development being towards level 2. Shortly after N4C ended, in the summer of 2011, the team from Trinity College Dublin returned to follow up on their N4C work, repeating the routines with Tannak assuring logistics and access to the community that is, again among the summer sites of the reindeer herders. This time the funding came from a new FP7 project, SAIL (Scalable and Adaptive Internet Solutions).

 

N4C from a gender studies point of view

 

The affirmative action origins and gender studies involvement in N4C ensures that the assessment of gender equality indicators that is obligatory for all FP7 projects takes place against an unusual background. Starting the analysis from the standard body count, the N4C project performed overall slightly better than European average figures for women in leadership. It is not obvious how to compare different statistics but, for the so-called EU 27 that is the overall measure for the whole EU, the gender distribution of leaders in business was 32 per cent women and 68per cent men. (European Communities 2010) In N4C, three out of eight work package leaders were women and four of twelve Steering committee representatives were women.  In a study by country however, major differences occur. Among the Swedish partners the research and development staff was both women and men, at about 50/50 distribution, while all Steering committee members (representatives of the partners in the consortiums decision organ) were women. (That is: three out of three.)

 

National figures can be misleading however, if put in the context of EU 27 comparisons. But also in a Swedish context, considering that these women were in leadership positions as result of their influence over public innovations support funding, this is remarkable. In a detailed study of Vinnvxt, a national Swedish programme for innovation systems support, Balkmar and Nyberg (2006) found that the distribution between female and male project managers was 30/70 per cent and additionally that, men tended to have higher education level than women project leaders, which in the given context indicated that the latter had general management rather than strategic research and development functions. See also Pettersson (2007) for a comparative study of the Scandinavian policy texts and practices for support of innovation systems. The Swedish representation in N4C differs from normal formations in Swedish formations for innovation oriented projects that receive public funding support. At the other side of the scale was the Irish participation. It did not include women as representatives in the consortium or among research and development staff. 

 

The next step from counting numbers and shares of women is to assess what their participation meant in a socio-economic sense. The women who were involved in N4C started from positions integrated in male dominated high prestige branches; as reindeer herders, scientists and specialists. Thus, to put it short, for the women as well as men involved, the gain from N4C was the support this type of project gives to remain in the front line. Apparently a modest win, it should be considered however, that the step of, so to speak, upgrading, to the new roles and occuptions continuously emerging on the front line of occupational innovation, is known to be problematic in terms of gender equality; an instance where equality is fragile. (Johansson & Udn 2008, Sandstrm et al 2010, Udn 2011)

 

The other aspect of gender and technology studies, next to quantitative evaluation and the quest for inclusion and participation in technology development and innovation systems, is the matter of qualitative changes in technology production. Feminism has criticized scientific practices as being distorted by one-eyed ideals. This critique argues that whereas the gentleman is regarded as the model of a knowing subject and male experience as template for knowledge structure, among other the female subject and womens areas of responsibility are excluded from the scientific knowledge generation. Feminist and gender studies furthermore find the view problematic, which is widely held among science and technology experts that, the research and development practices which they maintain are free from cultural markers, and that they represent pure knowledge in a world otherwise biased. This attitude is far from innocent, and it disguises hierarchies and closes doors to participation, for newcomers and people who represent other experiences and identities. (Braidotti 2006, Keller 1985, 1992, Haraway 2004, Vehvilinen 1997) The question then, when speaking about N4C specifically, is whether targeting rural conditions and communications challenged communities, was something that translated into its scientific practice and technical paradigms. With inspiration from reindeer husbandry in northern Scandinavia the N4C vision was to develop a nomadic segment for the composition of a ubiquitous future internet. Like the nomads, in each moment it should fit into the situation and location, with very small demands on the environment to change for its sake. The place where the technology is employed should not need to change but rather the technology should enable people to be there; live, work, communicate, take care of their business, interact with the environment via sensor nodes and other observations.

 

A base line is that, a project of this kind at least allows actors who so wish, to formulate and express an inclusive and perhaps alternative practice. A chance is also created to acknowledge qualities among participants that work in the direction of inclusion. As initially stated, all involved brought with them a history and motive for promoting the type of aims emphasised by the N4C work plan and for instance the examples of the commercial enterprises Albentia Systems S.A and MEIS d.o.o are shortly described at different instances in the above.

 

The final step for evolvement of changes in scientific practices obviously goes with changes in internal acknowledgement such as models for reports, acceptance of papers in peer-reviewed journals, requirements for doctoral theses and other. FIREs emphasis on experimentation as method has in this respect functioned in a supportive direction. It has been possible to embrace plurality, interaction, and heterogeneity. Reasonably, these qualities occur in any project of such a size that N4C has been but that nevertheless can be regarded as problematic within a paradigm where plurality is interpreted as failure or a sign of weakness.

 

The present interest within philosophy of science, in interaction with nature and matter as active in the creation of technology and scientific results has likewise supported the formulation of experiences in N4C. Not least, this goes for experiences from the field tests and that stand forth in the contrasts between laboratory work and field work. In the field birds pick on encasings and bugs build their nests in them, dew falls on electronics, and gradually as a summer proceeds the mass of leaves can grow to hinder what was in spring line of sight. (Udn et al 2009, Udn & Wamala 2011) 

 

Conclusions

 

With the closure of N4C as a research and development project, a circle of nine years is closed. This is, if counting from when Avri Doria heard about the herders who wanted ICT access and, the reindeer herders community board had acknowledged the realization of her idea as a theme among their ongoing projects. With N4C the technical advancement was accomplished which Dorias architecture suggested, it has been verified that her idea can work. Thus, the N4C closure corresponds to two time scales, one that stretches over three years and one of nine years that is, three times as long as the project as a single project unit.

 

Combining front line technical research and development with socio-economic goals is a matter of several dimensions. The purpose of the above report has been to mirror this plurality. One conclusion, is that the N4C process has confirmed the initial hypotheses that co-operating with actors in rural areas and targeting specifically challenging use situations can function as a driver for high-tech development. We see this confirmed for instance by the fact that  project staff are, based on project outcomes, authors and co-authors of several contributions to the experimental standards for Delay Tolerant Networking.

 

The implications for community development are twofold. If research teams can internally justify co-working with communities, communities can gain from well adapted technologies as well as access to high-tech and research funding that can be used for advancement of own knowledge society capacities. The rise of projects such as N4C and CONFINE and the Living Labs movement, the Smart Cities initiative, within the EU Seventh Framework Programme indicate that this view on co-operation potentials is spreading.  Additionally, geographical communities can, based on the situation of their geographically defined location, find opportunities for being involved in information and communications technology research and development that potentially address their own needs at the same time as it provides incomes, diversification of job opportunities and contacts for further development. With the Lapland community as an example, the project has in a direct sense meant support of local economic development in a remote European area through the incomes generated for the local project partner and to local suppliers, transportation and other service, in connection to real life testing. As there is interest among European partners to continue the contacts with the local actors, these effects may be sustained though the vulnerability of the situation is also clear, including the complexity of fund raising and the dependence on policies and their implementations at all levels from the local and regional and beyond.

How to capitalize or make use of opportunities related to innovation systems and knowledge production is a matter of concern in political as well as scientific analysis, not least with the correlation to the ever present strivings for growing abilities to foresee consequences and direct actions. Obviously, the details of how such opportunities can be realized will need to handle a number of conditions that take place on quite a mundane level. Overall, in the N4C case, the Europe level of co-operation was decisive for the progress both in terms of problem solving and for translating the progress to tangible outcomes.

 

In N4C, DTN, which was initially known only by few actors in the consortium, became mastered at the level of independent system integration by SMEs in northernmost, south and east Europe. The Portuguese partner IPN, and Polish ITTI are within this group and they are of interest from a community informatics perspective because of their achievements in making the research results accessible for a wider audience with demos, summaries and instructions produced throughout the project, and foremost through the construction of now publicly available system integration and simulation tools. (Cunha et al 2011).

 

 MEIS on the other hand, provided input through their expert staff into the real life DTN test in Lapland 2006 which formally, apart from the most prominent advisors, were a Nordic matter solely. This company demonstrates yet another route to what can be referred to as knowledge society inclusion for rural areas. Besides meetings between experts on the one hand and communities on the other and that is the deliberate choice of well educated experts to work with and from rural settings.

 

Albentia S.A. represents another example of this type of strategy, as does the strategic orientation of the project manager, LTU. Opposites are easily created in a discourse to that for instance, rural or community is set as opposite to advanced or sophisticated. Yet, as illustrated in the N4C project, the categories at play are not necessarily that distinct when unravelling in the concrete. A successful employee at a global high-tech company may well have a rural background. As well it should be noted that with an affirmative action project as ticket in, the involvement of women was the factor that drew the high-tech effort together thus additionally blurring boundaries, and furthermore that, the advanced experimentation focus of the European Commission FIRE initiative could be made to work for trying out the alternative scientific practice suggested in feminist science and technology studies.

 

Assessing the process in somewhat more detail, among the contradictions that can be traced, emerge the different interpretations that can be made of potentials in open source contra property rights protected strategies. The majority of software developed in N4C has been so called open code, or implemented on platforms with similar possibilities for free of charge use for non-commercial purposes. This choice was already in place among key players prior to N4C and served double purposes, firstly to make the results available to broad spectrums of possible stake holders and secondly, to facilitate long term co-work among various research and development environments. It was important for the project idea as such, to produce software and instructions that, without limitations, would be available to rural populations and other stake holders, after the project end. On the other hand, Tannak AB, a rurally based company the history of which is closely entwined with the N4C pre process, has maintained a strategy relying on protecting its technical advances and as much as possible applying terms of intellectual property rights. At a local level the owners are involved in competition with, among others, alternative aspiring herd tracking producers among their fellow reindeer herders who also aspire to develop a technically based business edge.

 

To finally conclude, the technical achievements--the real DTN topologies running autonomously for months demonstrate realistic designs of DTN as a means to establish networking in remote and rural areas, and generally for communications challenged communities. This technical result makes a difference in terms of community informatics in that the constraints for setting up networks have been pushed back a bit. The history of a successful network paradigm such as the internet itself, demonstrate how governance models and other organizational measures need go hand in hand with a technical advancement for it to be taken in use.

 

The merits of this singular effort are to have demonstrated a networking opportunity when uninterrupted short delay conditions can not be achieved in other ways or generally, when real time connectivity for some reason is not an option. The project also gave the opportunity to develop WiMAX solutions for remote areas that can be combined with DTN or work autonomously. When it comes to building ICT networking capacities, technical advances cannot replace political decisions or civic initiatives. However, the physical capacity of data networks, and the conditions which they are able to confront and at what cost, provide as significant element of the decision background.

 

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[1] The different deliverables to the European Commission describe this work. They are available through www.n4c.eu or from the author on address Lule University of Technology, S-97187 Lule, Sweden www.ltu.se A small number of deliverables contain information not open to the public and cannot be distributed.

[2] The HWS department has recently, as result of overall reorganization at LTU formed a larger unit titled Business Administration, Technology and Society.

[3] In Norrbotten, cleaning is a job identified with women. This is based on a tradition of cleaning as a prolongation of womens duties in a home. At a day time cleaning operation such as in school premises, the work force is heavily dominated by women.

 

 



The Journal of Community Informatics. ISSN: 1712-4441