So here’s the gist.
I’ve been digging for weeks to try and find a good solution to remote data connection access that’s compact, affordable and relatively easy to set up and start using in a global context and it’s unbelievably hard…
To give some context, I work in the humanitarian space, building data collection and analysis systems. We cover large swathes of Africa and the Pacific, but we have the consistent problem of connectivity issues, it’s oft-times our biggest problem. Our international field staff can get away with using data roaming but it gets crazy expensive very quickly and only helps our embedded staff and not local doctors, nurses and other field staff in-country.
What we need is a way to provide some type of data access (even if it’s just periodic) to these people for a mobile app or a desktop app. Email is also a bonus but not necessarily needed. All we really need at the base of it is the ability to remotely sync records that the user has submitted on their phone or in our desktop app on their laptop. We’ve dabbled with SMS, but some of these records are just too large and complex for SMS.
The overarching context of this is disease surveillance. We need to know when for instance a case or cases of Ebola have been reported in a remote village as quickly as possible. Right now, it can be weeks before we get that information because the user has to travel to get a good enough connection, or travel to a higher population density location where internet access is available or a larger refugee settlement or village, sometimes it’s as simple as having to just walk to the highest local point to get the hill, others it’s a matter of having to get in a truck and drive for hours to try and get a signal. Finding out a village has a case of ebola three weeks ago is not OK, we need that information as quickly as possible in order to make informed decisions about next steps and outbreak suppression in order to react quickly, our reaction times are fast, but our reporting delays for these remote locations aren’t.
That all being said, we’re budget constrained, we’re talking about countries which don’t have a ton of funds, we already provide mobile phones, a basic installable server as a relay node and a couple of cheap laptops in a giant black pelican case along with solar chargers. We have room for some kind of equipment to enable access in the remotest of locations. We have access to data sims from local telecoms but the cost is high for minimal amounts of data and provisioning 300+ sims quickly is a lot harder than provisioning a handful and our handsets aren’t the most powerful out there.
So basically I’m trying to draw on the lobste.rs communal knowledge and experience to see if you guys have knowledge of, or guidance on a workable solution to what is a herculean roadblock in the humanitarian space. A lot of the time the field staff aren’t technologically savvy, they’re smart people, but their exposure to complex tech is limited, we don’t have the resources to send out tech people to every village and location, it needs to be something that has few steps to set up and the guidance can be clear on it (i.e. put in sim card, plug in antennae, plug in box, hit switch kind of instructions).
tl;dr In a global context, what are some ideas for what I can stick in a pelican case that will guarantee some type of connectivity to remote locations so that we can gather data to prevent disease outbreaks?