For those who live or work in developing areas, the nettlesome pursuit of connecting to the internet is, if not impossible, a chore and luxury. In an ever-connecting world where the value and need for reliable internet is becoming vital for nearly every aspect of development, the modes by which we connect–i.e. ethernet, routers and USB devices–have changed little. Thus, one’s internet connection is only as reliable as the surrounding infrastructure–which, in the context of this blog, is more prone to random blackouts and painfully dated technology than the nearest Apple store. As such, there’s a market-gap for a product that can withstand the barriers of connectivity in regions lacking dependable service.
Meet BRCK, the latest innovation from Ushahidi. BRCK is your home router after a few years in the Peace Corps–its leaner, stronger, and more versatile. The device can connect to WiFi, 3G, 4G mobile networks and Ethernet; when one service fails, BRCK automatically switches to the next available one. Say your reading this blog in Northern Uganda using WiFi via the BRCK and the power goes out. Given that there’s a mobile network, you’ll be able to read on and on while BRCK runs off its 8-hour battery. As Ushahidi likes to put it, “it’s the equivalent of a backup generator for the net.” BRCK also has a 16 GB hard drive and can be used as file sharing source–think “cloud”–and can support up to 20 devices in multiple rooms.
Albeit a handy tool, BRCK far from solves the problem of someone trying to gain access to the internet in, say, anyplace without a mobile network. The product still relies on the surrounding technological infrastructure–if your off the grid, you’re off the internet. Moreover, you wont be seeing a lot of school children or small shop owners lugging these things around; BRCK’s currently go for $200 USD.
Nonetheless, the BRCK is a step forward in the way people connect to the internet or at the very least provides the blueprint for a multifaceted router. It’s still a temporary, limited solution for broken infrastructures that need tremendous improvement–but that kind of progress is slower than dial-up. In the meantime, grab a BRCK.