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The Telecommunications for Development (T4D) project is designed to develop ICT resources that are directly relevant to the South African context with the explicit aim of socio-economic development. The essential idea is to develop software frameworks and processes for producing reliable, cost-effective, scalable and efficient solutions on a variety of network platforms.  The solutions themselves use, are based off and feed back into designing better network infrastructure. The focus on developing prototypes means that industry partners have a ready idea of how the research will be useful and exploitable.  The T4D project can be split into the four work packages, detailed below.

WP T4D1: Community Centered Communication, Education and Content Creation

While many development projects are top down, with goals, funding, and messaging coming from donors and government organizations, it is also well known that grassroots development has great potential for better targeting the needs and realities of community members.  In this project, we propose to take a community-centric view on development of technological interventions intended to help people in low-income rural and urban areas. This has three main aspects. Firstly, we investigate the mechanisms by which people communicate, proposing that cloudlet-based services on community networks might help make networked communication more affordable. In this component of the project we seek to establish community networks, co-design cloudlet services, and to study community conceptions around Internet pricing and usage. Secondly, we seek to leverage mobile devices as a tool for community education in health and other sectors. Our aim is to develop and test design mechanisms for improving retention of material and persuasion of the recipients towards more healthy behaviours. Finally, we target the very significant gap of improving bottom-up messaging, enabling creation of multimedia content, as well as bridging the communication gap between community members and the local and global community.  For all of this research we recognize that for many of our users, the mobile phone is the first and often only means of access to the Internet, so we also seek to understand the resultant ramifications for design of mobile devices and applications.  In addition, we observe the ways in different communications technologies might be leveraged in complementary and evolving ways to result in a more effective braided communications channel. Our research will add to theory on braided communications, leveraging it in more holistic interventions that recognize that mobile phones are not a panacea.

WP T4D2: Dynamic Spectrum Access for developing regions

Dynamic spectrum access (DSA) is gaining traction in many parts of the world as a novel model to allow secondary users to make use of unused parts of the electromagnetic spectrum at specific geographic locations or at specific times. TV white spaces is a DSA technology making use of unused spectrum in the UHF TV band. This spectrum below 1 GHz is particularly useful for providing access to low-density populations in rural areas – it provides four times the range of 2.4 GHz WiFi and has better propagation through foliage and allows non-line-of-site communication, unlike WiFi networks.

TV white spaces is at a critical stage in Africa with pilots in 9 countries in Africa. South Africa has carried out 2 trials and regulation for TV white spaces will most likely be finalised within 2016. A licence-free model for TV White spaces offers a unique opportunity to lower the cost-barrier for Wireless ISPs to provide connectivity in low-density under-serviced areas in Africa.

TV white spaces and dynamic spectrum access is at an embryonic stage in South Africa and many of these projects can be used to influence regulation which is still being developed. Ultimately DSA technology will open up new market opportunities for wireless operators to expand access to poorly connected regions.

WP T4D3: Low-resource Education Technology

Low-resource environments are environments where resource limitations have a fundamental impact on the design of technology.  These constraints include electricity, Internet bandwidth, availability of skilled staff and availability of equipment.  Low-resource environments include so-called developing countries but solutions that are efficient and robust in using resources can benefit virtually any environment; the low-resource constraint results in a focus on better algorithms and designs that all users can benefit from.

Educational Technology refers to software and hardware solutions designed specifically to support the teaching and learning processes.  Traditionally, this was defined to include Computer Aided Instruction/Learning (CAI/CAL) and, more recently, Learning Management Systems.  Now, however, there is a much broader working definition that includes mobile applications for learning, intelligent assessment systems, school management systems and tools to assist teachers in enabling learning.  Educational technology has been widely adopted at both universities and schools, with the goals of either improving efficiency or keeping abreast of trends and/or effecting interventions to enhance the teaching and learning processes and outcomes.

WP T4D4: ICT for socio-economic development

This project is designed to develop ICT resources in networks and the use of ICT for socio-economic development that are directly relevant to the South African context. The essential idea is to develop software frameworks and processes for producing reliable, cost-effective, scalable and efficient solutions on a variety of network platforms.

There needs to be much more relevant content and useful applications. The question for researchers is how are these going to be provided?

South Africa has recently seen many service delivery protests. The aim of this project is to provide an effective channel for citizens to provide information to the government on service delivery requirements and issues. In this way, we can help to defuse the frustrations that have led to violence in the past. We call this “crowdvoicing”.

In addition, disabled people find it hard to access government services and gain an education. Our group has been active with Deaf people for some time and we aim to continue this productive involvement.