Wizzy Digital Courier
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( 29.04.2004 )
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( 29.07.2003 )

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We at Wizzy Digital Courier are officially opening in South Africa the prototype of a new method of low cost Internet access that can be used for rural schools in any environment in the world.

What school computer labs can now have:
1) Old, cheap computers behaving like brand new high speed computers

2) No license fees for ANY software

3) Email and Web for every student without the cost of being online

4) Email and Web for schools that don't even have a telephone

5) Teachers can explicitly choose the web material that the kids access and definitively reject web material that is not appropriate.

6) In existing labs, normally NO additional equipment is required to have this kind of Internet lab.

For the last 10 months we have been developing a computer network that brings email and web to classroom computer labs incredibly inexpensively without students ever being online and we now have 4 working prototype labs operating in schools in South Africa. In one of our schools that does not have a telephone line we are actually physically delivering and picking up email and web data by hand delivered courier using a flash card (like a data mailman) in place of using a dial up line.
All of the equipment used in the labs is old used or donated equipment set up as a Thin-Client network (see below) - a 60% to 90% savings in equipment.

Linux only, though if existing labs have Windows, we do not disable it - we allow a dual boot. So no license fees, nor any loss of existing function.
The Internet is dialed up only at night when the rates are rock bottom (South Africa TELKOM provides a particular phone account that allows a single 12 hour phone call for 7 rand per night - about 90 cents US), and approximately 250 Meg of email and web material is downloaded per school each night onto a server in the classroom for the students to access in the morning after the phone has been hung up, giving them an identical experience of email and web during the school day to an online web experience.

In most of the country these cost savings are the difference between affording an Internet lab and no lab at all, and we plan to publish and make freely available everything required for any computer lab environment anywhere to be able to do the same thing themselves.


There are really three wholesale innovations that we are bringing to school computer labs.
These innovations are:

1) The "Thin Client" computer network. This is not our design, but rather it is a well established technology by which very inexpensive old used computers that the kids are using in the lab act simply as a window to access the full computing power of a new and powerful server in the back room as though it were that server. This means that each "old" computer behaves like the new server, sharing its computing power with the other "clients" in the lab. In addition, though the students have their own computing environment with their own files, desktop, etc, they cannot reconfigure the computer terminal itself to be non-functional (black type on a black background, for example) so the lab computers are trivial to keep up and maintenance is restricted to the server in the back room.

2) Linux, not Windows - the Linux operating system is world wide, stable, and FREE.
In addition, for every Windows software product we have included a Linux alternative that looks for all intents the same. For example, a word processor (that can read Microsoft word document files, incidentally), a spreadsheet, a publisher, an HTML editor for creating web pages, a typing tutorial, etc.
This means that not only do you no longer have to spend vast amounts of money on new equipment in order to run Windows, but you don't have to spend an equally vast amount of money on the Windows operating system either.

3) Internet by delayed dial up and digital courier
This is our innovation.
Instead of the lab being online, all the email and web requests of the day are stored up until night time when the rates are 7 rand for one phone call for the entire night (TELKOM's 7 rand nights and weekend's account). The mail is then sent, and the requested websites are then downloaded onto the school's server in a web cache, and the phone is hung up before 7 in the morning. When the kids arrive, there are their email and websites waiting for them, and they are never online.
This also works for remote schools that do not have a telephone. We call it Digital Courier - Instead of the school receiving the data over the telephone line at night, it is physically carried on a small hand held flash card out to the school and dropped off on their server in their lab just like a mailman's delivery, and the outgoing mail picked up by the same device. The data is then dropped onto the Internet later that night at one of the other schools when that school dials up. One of our schools here in KwaZulu-Natal works this way.


Our lab in Eshowe High School in KwaZulu-Nata has 35 used computers servicing 400 students with their own email address. The students can access web sites that have been downloaded by request of the administrator and surf them offline exactly as though they were online.

This means that a school can now have complete control over the websites that the children can access.

This means that the kids can now have their own private email exactly as all of us that are online.
This means that the web sites are served to the kids instantly as they surf their Intranet in the class, because they are all stored on the server already from the download the night before.
This means that old, slow, even junk (including 486's) computers work like the new, single, high powered server in the back of the lab, and the maintenance is really only on one machine - the server, not the 35 clients. So you don't have a lab full of broken computers after 3 months of kids using them.

All this for 7 rand per night.

[25 Jun 2003 15:58]

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