13 March 2010

Niue Episode 2: Site Prep

After meeting with the government, we took a look at the Telecom Niue switching room, home of a big Redcomm analog switch that serves all of the wireline phones in the country. Tim's mission, should the Xorcom box arrive, is to connect OpenBTS/Asterisk to this switch. In the meantime, Tim is thinking of what else he might connect us to. Telecom's attitude about the Redcomm seems to be that it is big and it is old and it works OK, so don't screw with it. We respect that point of view. When we suggested direct VoIP connections for international calls out of the GSM system, Telecom was skeptical. They were decidedly against anything that would connect their private IP network to the island's public ISP. We respect that, too, and respected it more and more as we started to understand the country's connectivity situation.

Our next stop was the installation site, a hilltop called Sekena, about 1 km south of Makefu village. The Chinese had put a TV tower there as part of a reconstruction package following cyclone Heta in 2004 and we were co-siting with the Broadcasting Company of Niue (BCN). Sekena is the second highest point on the island and an excellent site for a radio systems, so 240 meters to the north, there is a 700 Watt AMPS-850 system being used for WLL service to the north part of the island.

(lat -19.018, long -169.918)

About 2/3 of the way up the tower, 53 meters up, there is a platform with a sturdy handrail. That's where our antenna will go, alongside some existing VHF police radios.

At the tower base there is concrete shed with grid power and air conditioning. BCN gave us use of an old rack that housed a defunct TV repeater. Strip the rack and it's ours. We were feeling a little better about making progress without our cargo, but it was late on Friday and Niueans take their weekends seriously, so we told Telecom that we will have work for their technicians on Monday and we headed back to the guesthouse to get some showers and clean clothes. Then we went to Alofi and paid NZ$25 each to get our laptops provisioned in the "free" wifi system. Ping time to California was about 800 ms, packet loss about 5% and most ports were blocked, including outbound SMTP and every UDP-based application we could think of. (And by Monday, we would think that was really good.)

(Project funder Taiichi Fox helps strip the old TV repeater rack.)

On Saturday, we went back out to Sekena to strip the equipment rack. On Sunday, in proper Niuean style, we took a day off. Our government contact, Frank Sioneholo, took us to his village of Mutalau to see a "hair-cutting" ceremony and the sea cave where his ancestors welcomed the first missionaries to the island.

(Two pickup trucks of slaughtered pigs to celebrate a little boy's first haircut.)

(Frank Sioneholo at the sea cave where his ancestors greeted the first missionaries to Niue.)


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