All the little glitches

25
Oct
2013

I have long been fascinated and often frustrated by the seeming inability to make what seem like standard technical processes in the US or Europe work as expected in places like Morocco (or India, or other “developing” countries). To take one example from yesterday, WiFi connectivity. It was constantly dropping even though I was close and had a strong signal. It would ask for passwords that had already been entered. It would slow to a crawl very often. It would disappear from the network and then reappear sometime later. This is a technology that has been in use for many years, and it has a set of technical standards attached to its use. It is used millions of times over in countless places. In theory, this is not something that should be so unreliable here. But then you realize that technologies like WiFi (and many others) rely not just on the standardized equipment, but are based on a huge array of invisible items that go into making it so plug-and-play in places like the US:

1. WiFi internet connectivity is only as good and fast as the phone company or cable company or satellite company that supplies it on the other end. In the US, there are many fallbacks and safeguards that improve reliability, and these have been developed over many years.

2. Following on from the above, investment in the underlying telephone network. Capital improvements for things like this seem to happen rarely here and when it does rollout is beset by all kinds of corruption and delay. Often countries like Morocco are sold aging equipment and techniques that are no longer in use by their former colonial overlords (France) and sold to them by the same.

3. Technical expertise setting up networks. There are very few people here who have formal training in these things and they often are flying by the seat of their pants. They are reluctant to ever admit not knowing something for fear of losing a valued contract, and they often patch together these networks in ways they should not.

4. Places like Morocco and India do not have strict building codes, or they are not enforced. This results in the built environment often interfering with the signals through shoddy electrical wiring. They also tend to be places where, because of environmental conditions, they built quite thick concrete or stone walls which make it challenging to get a WiFi signal through.