In East Timore, there is no local phone service to speak of. Most people have cell phones, but they can't afford to use them. That costs 25 cents per minute, for people who earn about a buck and a half per day. That situation is duplicated in developing nations around the world.
Australian Amateur Radio Operator David Rowe VK5DGR is part of a group that's trying to change it. They've engineered a local phone system that's cheap to install and free to use. It's based on WiFi mesh networking, and it's being tested in South Africa and East Timore. They call it The Village Telco. And it's working.
David related the story of the Village Telco at the 2011 ARRL/TAPR Digital Communications Conference, at the Saturday Night Banquet. The DCC is an annual, three-day weekend conference covering digital communications in Amateur Radio....
The Village Telco is an initiative to build low-cost community telephone network hardware and software that can be set up in minutes anywhere in the world. No mobile phone towers or land lines are required. The Village Telco uses the latest Open Source telephony software and low cost wireless mesh networking technology to deliver affordable telephony anywhere.
Mesh Potato – A low-cost wireless mesh device you can plug a regular phone into
The Mesh Potato is a combination of a low-cost wireless Access Point (AP) running mesh networking software with an Analog Telephony Adapter (ATA). Mesh Potatoes automatically connect with each other, forming a “cloud” of Mesh Potatoes. Each Mesh Potato relays the phone calls for other Mesh Potatoes, greatly extending the range of the network. Plug an ordinary telephone into one Mesh Potato and you can instantly make a phone call to any other Mesh Potato on the network.
Here's what a US ham has done with this mesh potato for emergency use: