iNethi Background 

Despite tremendous growth in internet-capable mobile device adoption, internet usage and access to data is limited in South Africa by prohibitive costs and unequal coverage. Mobile data is expensive relative to the income of these residents, and costs prevent rural and low-income urban people from using internet-based communication to their full benefit. Community wireless networks aim to address this by aggregating demand, allowing community residents to purchase internet at bulk rates even when service providers lack incentive to improve their infrastructure. In these networks, communities deploy and manage their own locally-owned infrastructure for communications and internet access. This approach has significant potential, as demonstrated previously by the Zenzeleni and Rhizomatica projects. However, this is only the beginning. Our research (Phokeer 2016, Johnson 2012) shows that most communications in these communities is with users within the same locality. Yet for the most popular applications, including WhatsApp and Facebook, messages destined for neighbors across the street must first travel the world over expensive and constrained data links.  Thus, we might further reduce costs by offering community-based services and content sharing that do not require use of the internet connection.

For the iNethi project (‘nethi’ translates to ‘network’ in isiXhosa) we  work with communities to extend the existing community wireless models by enabling sharing and authoring of local digital resources and services. The flagship iNethi deployment is currently taking place in Ocean View, a township located in the Southern Peninsula of Cape Town. We have set up local servers connected to WiFi access points, as well as a WiFi and television white spaces (TVWS) wireless backbone connecting them.  The servers initially are running several open source services, including social networking (Diaspora), chat (RocketChat), file-sharing (OwnCloud), and web authoring (WikiFundi). We are working with the community to also prepopulate the server with both global and local content, including free educational media. For example, in our workshops and discussions, residents of the Ocean View have expressed interest in Khan Academy, Wikipedia in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa, locally created music and videos, a community business directory, and community radio.




iNethi Tech

  • The iNethi Network uses mesh with TVWS and WiFi radios
    • Mesh provides simple set-up (self-forming) and repair (self-healing)
    • Mesh routes over TVWS or WiFi or both to provide better coverage, capacity and redundancy
  • iNethi network enables decentralized content distribution
    • Encourage content generation and local innovation
    • Create local content, build locally hosted apps, locally hosted services
  • Uses open source software and platform code will be released under GNU GPL
  • Runs all cloudlet services as secure docker or LXD containers
  • Uses a single sign-on API for all services
  • All data is encrypted and can only be decrypted by the owner, users who data is shared with, or a group master key in case of a breach
  • Synchronizes all data on local iNethi server to the global iNethi and some data to other iNethi communities in cases where users move between iNethi networks
  • Integrates into community wireless networks that use e.g. WiFi, TVWS, OpenCellular
  • Users interact with iNethi services using a web browser or mobile apps
  • IoT devices interact with iNethi services using M2M protocols




Principles of iNethi for Users

  • Ownership and security
    • Services hosted on iNethi are chosen by the community
    • Pricing, growth, and other governance issues are guided by the following principles, but ultimately determined by the community
    • Your content can only be seen by you or users you share it with or by anyone if marked as public
  • Local user content generation, storage and sharing
    • Your content is yours
    • You can freely access it anywhere on iNethi
    • You can freely share it in your community
    • Your data follows you when you move to other communities with Inethi
    • You can access your content anywhere using standard Internet access
  • Real-time communication
    • You can use voice/chat/video locally in Inethi for free
    • Real-time communication to users outside Inethi such as dial-out will be a monetized service but will be more affordable than using mobile data packages.
  • Content hosting of global content
    • Access to locally hosted high value content that the community selects is free

Principles of iNethi for Communities 

  • Each community shall establish a governing board to manage the network and make decisions about use and expansion of the community network
  • The community can build or adapt their own iNethi services using a well documented API to use the single sign-on and synchronization aspects of iNethi
  • Services can be monetized by the community if required
  • The technology will support an Acceptance User Policy (AUP) created by the community
  • The technology will support a governance structure created by the community
  • Not even Administrators can access users content
  • If required, a breach of the AUP will require all security keys from nominated leaders in the governance structure to take down data or launch an investigation


Partners and Collaborators