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Challenge aims to connect the unconnected

There are two challenges: the Off-the-grid Internet Challenge and the Smart Community Network Challenge

Wanted: bright ideas for wireless connectivity from US-based entrants
Wanted: bright ideas for wireless connectivity from US-based entrants

Mozilla and the National Science Foundation are accepting applications for their Wireless Innovation for a Networked Society (WINS) challenges.


The mission of the two organisations is to connect the unconnected and unlock the Internet’s full potential. Mozilla points out that 34 million people in the US alone lack access to quality Internet connectivity. This number leaps to 39 per cent in rural communities.

The challenge, open to US-based entrants, offers a total of $2 million in prize money for wireless technologies that get people online after disasters, or that connect communities lacking reliable Internet access.

“Open innovation challenges can have an outsized impact,” said Mehan Jayasuriya, a programme manager with Mozilla who is overseeing the challenges.


“They can uplift creative, thoughtful projects by local community members who face connectivity challenges first-hand, and who fully understand the needs in their community. We at Mozilla don’t presume to have the answers to these challenges but we’re willing to bet that diverse groups of community members working together to address their own needs might.”


The solutions that emerge from such challenges can help to accelerate the smart city movement as a whole. Jayasuriya explained that while the challenges fund individual projects, they also “send the message” that community technologists can be an integral part of solving connectivity and smart city challenges.


“These challenges signal that Mozilla, the National Science Foundation and our partners are prepared to invest in the smart city movement at the community level, to encourage tools that are designed and built from the bottom up, rather than the top down,” he said.


It is the first time that Mozilla has run these particular challenges but it has undertaken open innovation competitions in the past, such as the Equal Ratings Innovation Challenge which sought to connect the unconnected in the global south. The winning entry, Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband, uses television white spaces spectrum to provide affordable access to rural communities.


WINS lays down two separate challenges:


Off-the-grid Internet Challenge: wireless solutions for communication that can be rapidly deployed in post-disaster situations where Internet access is unavailable or compromised.


Challenge applicants will be expected to design both the means to access the wireless network (hardware) and the applications provided on top of that network (software). Projects should be portable, easy to power and simple to access.


The organisers provide the following example as a guide: A backpack containing a hard drive computer, battery and wi-fi router. The router provides access, via a wi-fi network, to resources on the hard drive like maps and messaging applications.


Smart Community Networks Challenge: many communities across the US lack reliable Internet access. Sometimes commercial providers don’t supply affordable access; sometimes a particular community is too isolated; sometimes the speed and quality of access is too slow.


How can we leverage existing infrastructure -- physical or network -- to provide high-quality wireless connectivity to communities in need?

Challenge applicants should plan for a high density of users, far-reaching range and robust bandwidth. Projects should also aim to make a minimal physical footprint and uphold users’ privacy and security.


The organisers provide the following example as a guide: A neighbourhood wireless network where the nodes are housed in, and draw power from, disused phone booths or similarly underutilised infrastructure.


These challenges are open to individuals and teams, non-profits and for-profits. Applicants could be academics, technology activists, entrepreneurs or makers.


Each Challenge consists of two stages: a design concept stage (Stage 1) and a working prototype stage (Stage 2). Entrants who successfully meet the Stage 1 judging criteria will be invited to compete in Stage 2.


Before submitting an application, all entrants must submit an Intent to Apply form. Intent to Apply submissions will be accepted through to 15 October 15 2017. For full details of the challenge, go to



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