Building high-speed wireless in Afghanistan out of garbage

Volunteers in Afghanistan -- both locals and foreigners from the MIT Bits and Atoms lab -- have been building out a wireless network made largely from locally scrounged junk. They call it "FabFi" and it's kicking ass, especially when compared with the World Bank-funded alternative, which has spent seven years and hundreds of millions of dollars and only managed its first international link last summer.
Pictured below is a makeshift reflector constructed from pieces of board, wire, a plastic tub and, ironically enough, a couple of USAID vegetable oil cans that was made today by Hameed, Rahmat and their friend "Mr. Willy". It is TOTALLY AWESOME, and EXACTLY what Fab is all about.

The boys at the Jalalabad Fab Lab came up with their own design to meet the growing demand created by the International Fab surge last September. As usual all surge participants who came from the US, South Africa, Iceland and England paid their own way. Somebody needs to sponsor these people.

For those of you who are suckers for numbers, the reflector links up just shy of -71dBm at about 1km, giving it a gain of somewhere between 5 and 6dBi. With a little tweaking and a true parabolic shape, it could easily be as powerful as the small FabFi pictured above (which is roughly 8-10dBi depending on materials)

The Jalalabad Fab Fi Network Continues to Grow With a Little Help from Their Friends (via Futurismic)


  1. hey, I’m Afghan… and I’ll be honest, this actually brought a tear to my eye. I don’t know why.

  2. “Jalalabad Fab Lab” is a great sounding name, they should start selling T-shirts for financing.

    1. Godot,

      The Jbad Fab Lab crew makes and sells tee shirts to fund their operations. Send an email to Hameed at

      He’ll be thrilled to hear from you or anyone else from outside Afghanistan (inside Afghanistan too for that matter the boys are not too picky when it comes to on line friends.) Tell him I can mail the shirts through the APO box.

  3. Hey, I use similar home-made technology right here in Sydney.

    My 3G USB wireless Broadband dongle is affixed to the concave surface of a kitchen-type strainer. Now that’s a true parabolic attenuator.

    You can look up the location of your nearest 3G tower on a Dept. of Communications website and point the strainer in that direction. My reception is close to ADSL speed.

    Woktenna info

  4. You just like it because it’s similar to a plot point in Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town.

  5. I question the “hundreds of millions” on the world bank and the 2009 installation claim.

    I checked the World Bank project list and latest report. They only list two internet related projects: $14 million to connect the ministry offices in regional capitals together to an international link that was active by 2007, and an internet cafe for women opened in 2005 (part of $15 million in various university repairs). The only project with over $100 million funding is a roads construction project for approximately 2,000km of road and bridge repairs.

    I can’t explain the confusion over the amount. The international link that went active in the summer of 2009 was a satellite link. It had been awaiting installation of reliable power. Power lines and power plants take a considerable time to build and are difficult to maintain in a war zone. In areas where a Taliban “tax” has been set up the power system is not destroyed, but if the tax is not paid the power system is quickly disabled. (It’s usually a carefully controlled destruction so that when the tax is paid, the power is restored.) The Taliban don’t build power systems. They just charge a tax to permit them to operate.

  6. Fantastic! Now we just need to expand free wifi internet through out the United States as well. Let the internet be free!

  7. I seem to recall a similar story coming out of Iraq right after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Didn’t the US military shut it down right away?

  8. “ironically enough, a couple of USAID vegetable oil cans”

    Where is the irony there?

    1. Irony can be the use of a thing beyond what’s expected. If you’ll accept as a reference, this is called situational irony as no one would expect that USAID oil cans (whether that’s food grade oil or not I don’t know) would be used to build a wireless internet backbone. This isn’t any of the other forms of irony though, so you are right about that.

  9. You know what this shows? This shows that we don’t need to send people stuff. This shows we don’t need to send private contractors to build people stuff. This shows we need to teach people how this stuff works, and they’ll figure out how to do it cheaply with what they got. Yeah, it’s ugly, and yeah, it’ll fall over in a year. But they built it themselves, and it is theirs, and it has no strings attached.

    @zikman – You should be proud of your countrymen who are rebuilding Afghanistan themselves. This thing is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

  10. Where I come from we call this design aesthetic “ghettolicious”. Only thing missing is an Altoids tin.

  11. Anybody notice the nice com tower in the background..?? Only problem with DIY like the pictured is a windstorm or flock of bird that might roost on it. Durability is key in environments like Afghanistan. I like the whole idea though… keep it up..!!

    1. Actually if it might get shot up or bombed or stolen by warlords, durability is not key, quick replaceability is key.

      For instance, look at japan with all the paper housing they used to have. Buildings were so likely to be destroyed by typhoons or earthquakes it make no sense to build them strongly until the last couple centuries when we had the technology. Before then, easily rebuilt paper houses were smarter than durable houses.

  12. Professional number sucker here. 71 dBm ~ 10 kilowatts. Where in the world did they find a 10 kW WiFi power amp? Are they modulating a microwave oven??

  13. C’mon people. It’s irony because USAID was supposed to build wireless with all that money they had, and instead it got hacked together by a bunch of Afghans *using discarded USAID oil cans*.

  14. “Professional number sucker here. 71 dBm ~ 10 kilowatts. Where in the world did they find a 10 kW WiFi power amp? Are they modulating a microwave oven??”

    Check your numbers, you can get 71 dbm on a $230 3 watt cellular wilson amp. I do it everyday with a Verizon wireless connection

    1. Check the math?, Ok.

      P(W) = 10^(Pdbm/10-3) = 10^(7.1-3) ~ 10^4.

      I did this calculation roughly twice a day for 8 years in a microwave comm lab.

      Did they possibly mean a receive level of -71 dBm? ’cause that’s lots different.

  15. They’re doing an incredible job bringing technology to a generation of kids and teens who will influence Afghanistan. FYI, I’ve written about them here, and am trying to fulfill an Amazon Wish List of books that the kids themselves have chosen. You can find it on my blog, The Kitchen Dispatch, under, “Help Build WiFi in Afghanistan.”

  16. Ingenuity and a little help from those who know, like “Mr Willy” and the Afghan people can come up with some smart ideas and put them into practice, this is one example, and good on them, makes you wonder where all that $$$ does go too! keep up the great work..

    To make sure the birds don’t land on it….cut a saw tooth pattern on the top edge.

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