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Burners without Borders deliver Wi-Fi to the Gulf

With cutting-edge mobile hot-spot technology, volunteers discover what no relief agency should be without.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

Hurricane Katrina struck just as Burning Man - that Labor Day weekend celebration of everything - was winding down in the Nevada desert. So Tom Price and about 20 other volunteers broke down the festival's heavy equipment and headed southeast to try to help out, Dan Terdiman writes on News.com.

The problem for the volunteers was pretty basic: In order to keep volunteering, they needed access to the Internet so they could do their day jobs. After hearing about Kyocera's new KR1 mobile router, which enables anyone with cell phone coverage and a PC Air card to create a WAN that can serve up to 10 people simultaneously, Price contacted the company and begged for help.

Kyocera responded quickly, he said, donating one of its new routers and a new PC Air card even before the router had hit the market publicly.

Now that they have they have Kyocera's mobile hotspot technology in place, so much more is possible. Calling themselves Burners Without Borders, the group "is helping tear down destroyed houses and supporting residents of a town where there is still almost no functional government or operational communications infrastructure, with the notable exception of cell phones." (That's BWB's Camp Katrina in Pearlington, MS pictured.)

Cellphones are the key to the technology. Kyocera's technology takes a cell phone signal and converts into high-speed broadband that can be broadcast to many users.

For Price and other members of Burners Without Borders, being able to reliably get online has been a boon. And that's not surprising, he said, given that the group is comprised largely of people who normally rely on the Internet to organize.

The group has depended on donations from the Internet-savvy community of Burning Man attendees and beyond to stay in Mississippi, Price said. The money is needed for items such as the $200 daily diesel fuel tab for the heavy equipment they use to tear down badly damaged buildings and homes.

And because many of those donations were coordinated via the Internet, it has been crucial for the group to get online, even when it looked like it would never be possible to get so much as a dial-up connection.

 While BWB is a volunteer group, the new mobile hotspot tech should be required equipment for all relief groups, be they government relief agencies or rag-tag burners, Price thinks.

"It's amazing, and this is the kind of wonder technology that the Internet always promised us," he said. "For groups working in a disaster zone, this should be as much a part of their equipment as generators, chainsaws and camping gear. For people working in a place where normal services have fallen apart, this is absolutely must-have equipment."


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