The Struggle in Building Free Internet Access and Free Telephone Infrastructure in Indonesia

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Onno W. Purbo


It's all started by simple common dreams, namely,

  • Low Cost or Free Broadband Internet Access for all.
  • Low Cost or Free Telephone for all.

Dreams that is common to all of us especially in developing countries.

This paper will describe the story of Indonesians who struggle to meet their dream using simple and low cost tools that can be easily replicated the whole country as well as other developing countries. However, tool is not the most important key. The main tactical success would be due to the creation of people's power via long term empowerment process to schools etc. People's power will eventually shift the pro-operator government policy into pro-people and pro-poor policy.

Creativity forced & several inventions spurs from the struggle, namely, wajanbolic, bazooka antenna, RT/RW-net, VoIP Rakyat etc. Use Google and these keywords will show the simple inventions made to backup the struggle.


Technology is becoming more user friendly, easier to use, and affordable in most cases very low cost. For example, in the past, only few geeks and techies would be able to setup wireless connection. Today, many people can easily install hotspot at their premises at US$50 or less. In the past, only operator can afford to buy and install large phone switch. Today, one can easily install large phone softswitch at US$600 serve thousand of subscribers. Even we can easily build BTS for cellular at cost less than US$2000.

Unfortunately, in most cases, the regulation will normally assumed only operator can buy , or build, or operate a wireless network and / or telecommunication switch / infrastructure. It is not easy to change a written law drafted by the parliament. In Indonesia, it may cost dearly to change such written law as we need to “pay” the parliament dearly.Image:Peopletelco.png

It is basically a war between the common, the under serve vs. the regulator, the operator, the parliament. To win a war, one need one of these ingredients. Either we have

  • Power, such as, regulator, operator
  • Money, such as, business
  • Mass, such as, communities.

In most cases, the commons have no power nor money. Thus, the common people need to create as large mass as possible if possible influence the whole country to support the cause to win the war. In practice, mass creation can be done via education / empowerment processes. It is a self-finance process as it happens in Indonesia. Unfortunately, it is not short term processes, it is a very very long term movement that may take decades. In addition, it needs a dedicated group informal leader to drive such movement.

For those who wish to learn more detailed on this can browse Google using the keyword “sejarah Internet Indonesia” in Indonesian (Indonesian Internet History in English). It is a historical records on the decades of Indonesian struggle to realize their dream. Please use Google translate to translate it into your language.


This is a more than one and a half decade of struggle to seek of low cost broadband (>1Mbps) Internet access in Indonesia starting 1993. Low cost broadband Internet access is everyone's dream.

In the past before the year 2000, Indonesian is in deep difficult situation. A 64Kbps leased line via chopper cable priced at US$400 / month. Frequency license for 2.4GHz was US$2000 / year / link. Although Internet was popular as it was introduced to public in 1995 many people rely on 28.8Kbps dialup links as not many people knows how build the low cost broadband Internet access.

Thus, there are two (2) main problems, namely, having a high speed broadband network. In this case, wireless network would be a logical alternative. Unfortunately, frequency license was too expensive. In addition, spreading the knowhow on how to build low cost broadband Internet access.

The final objectives of the Indonesian people in its struggle should be to unlicensed the frequency to create wireless infrastructure. The infrastructure should be self-finance by the communities as we cannot rely on the government / expensive public infrastructure.


In the early days, 1993-1998 several attempts for low cost Internet access was tried, such as, starting early 1992, use packet radio network in 150MHz at 1200bps without frequency license. It connected a couple of dozen educational institutions. In the process, this created a hundred of early TCP/IP techies in Indonesia.

Around 1996, Institute of Technology in Bandung (ITB) was getting VSAT connection via JCSAT & WIDE Project in Japan at 1.5Mbps. It was the highest speed Internet in Indonesia at that time. It pushed the need for high speed local access.

In 1996-1998, Karlbridge from the US running at 2Mbps using 915MHz was illegally deployed. Several big universities is connected. BTW, 915MHz is the cellular frequency in Indonesia and the rebel illegally use it to deploy low cost high speed Internet.

In 1998. Several attempt for seizing the Karlbridge equipment was done by the military / national force. Onno W. Purbo the man behind all the trouble was called by the Directorate General Post & Telecommunication. Jail was fairly close to Onno W. Purbo. Finally, the rebel agreed on moving to different frequency band. Please note at that time there is no free license band in Indonesia.


It is apparent, the rebel force needs to change its fighting strategy. Around 1998, we moved the broadband links to 2.4GHz. Using early Karlbridge equipment running at 2Mbps cost US$1000 / karlbridge. Again, without any license as it cost US$2000 / link / year.

The rebel needs to change their battle strategies. Guerrilla tactics via mass illegal use of the frequency would be more difficult to turn down. Starting around 1998, with Computer Network Research Group at Institute of Technology Bandung, write books, articles on how to build low cost broadband Internet access. A lot of invitations to gave demo, workshops, etc. since then sponsored by many vendor such as Corexindo, Planet Indonesia and work closely with Michael Sunggiardi in organizing wireless roadshow to many cities.

The Technology is no longer confined in education and research network environment. It loose into public! Lots of early cybercafes, ISP, corporate network in Indonesia was adopting the low cost broadband Wireless access at 2.4GHz.

For Indonesian, the knowledge is accessible via web at

it can also freely copied via 1 TerraByte USB hard disk. Thus, enable the people to gain access to knowledge at lowest possible cost / investment.

For those who like to read the English version may access that summarized many technical detail on how to build wireless network.


As lots of people starting to illegally use the 2.4GHz. Indonesians buy the idea of low cost Internet access using wireless access. In 1999, a significant number of sweeping by police for illegal 2.4GHz equipments was apparent. Many people decide to bribe (many have to do monthly bribe) the police rather than loosing their equipment. It becomes a money generating source for the Indonesian police :( …

In 2000, Onno W. Purbo was the advisor to Directorate General (DG) of Post and Telecommunication at that time. Seeing a lot of the comrade's equipments being seized, he submitted a letter to quit and will never put a step into the DG Office until the problem resolved. He never step into the DG office since then for the next five (5) years. It creates a problem for the DG as they have to face the communities in open public space outside their office which is very dangerous.

More workshops, seminars, media articles etc. were done at a rate of 2-3 seminars / workshops / week self-finance by the Indonesians to fulfill their curiosity as media coverage increases. At that time millions of Indonesian depends their access on 2.4GHz. The War apparent between power vs. people.


International recognition is a very important aspect in creating a huge policy pressure to the Indonesian government. International invitation to give workshop, talk, even write paper in international journal is creating an invisible force within the Indonesian people to fight to get their right to access information and knowledge on the Internet.

In 2003, the first World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), IDRC and CERN inviting Onno W. Purbo to participate and give talk at WSIS. In 2003-2005, a significant number of invitation funded by IDRC to Onno W. Purbo to give workshop & talk in South Africa, Harvard, Bhutan, Canada, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos etc. In 2005, the second WSIS, IDRC again invite Onno W. Purbo into the International lights.

All international activities are well reported in the Indonesian media, especially, the Indonesian main on-line media. It creates a strong image that “International communities are acknowledging the practical Indonesian way in getting low cost broadband access”. It consequently creates a huge pressure in the Indonesian public towards the Indonesian government.


By the end of 2004, the pressure within the country especially with the help by IDRC and international communities becoming too high.

Finally, 5 January 2005, Hatta Rajasa the ministry of transportation signed the Ministry Act that liberating 2.4GHz in Indonesia.


We currently see,

  • 2000-3000 installation of outdoor WiFi equipments per month.
  • Several companies in Indonesia is now making 2.4GHz antenna and equipments.
  • It is becoming one of the main infrastructure for connecting more than 15.000 Indonesian schools to the Internet.
  • Many invention in appropriate & low cost wireless technology, such as, bazooka antenna, wokbolic, wajanbolic, flat antenna, RT/RW-net and many others. Innovation is flourishing.
  • Now, Indonesian feels confidence to developed their own WiMAX technology and infrastructure as the demand for wireless network is high.

In short, the economy is good. The technology and innovation is flourishing. It is all very much demand driven.


Yes, the fight is not over yet.

Do you ever dream to have your phone number, such as, +968 1 (in Oman) or +62 3 (in Indonesia)? Yes, a phone number with only one / single digit. Even worse, what do you think of people's own cellular network? Where people can roam and call freely on OpenBTS cellular network.

VoIP or Internet Telephony has been around for sometimes now. The technology is quite mature, in fact, some operators now adopt these technology for their softswitches. Thus, reducing their investment cost while maintaining their quality of service level. Adding OpenBTS technology into these VoIP infrastructure would be very much logical path towards people's Telco cellular infrastructure.


The topology of People's Telecommunication is as follows

People's Telco Infrastructure

A simplified topology of People's Telecommunication Infrastructure is basically based on

All of the software are open source software, thus, it can be implemented easily.


The most important aspect is the reference manual on how to setup and operator the infrastructure is now available at

The VoIP Cookbook is funded by Internet Society Innovation Fund. It is written in English. The test bed for people's telco based on Internet Telephony technology has been running for several years at

At the time of writing this manuscript, several USRP hardware has been ordered from Funded by Ford Foundation, ICTWATCH.COM will start maneuver in 2012 to education Indonesian through many workshops and roadshows on how to implement and run openbts infrastructure.

We hope to see a significant mass in Indonesia to move the people's telco forward in the next decade.


It's all started by simple common dreams, namely, low cost or free broadband Internet access for all and low cost or free telephone for all. Dreams that common to all of us especially in developing countries.

In time, technology is known to be more user friendly, more simple, more affordable. Common may implement and run their own infrastructure at lower cost using newer technology to fulfill their rights (right to communicate, right to access knowledge etc). Empowerment and education process is key to create the large mass to adopt the technology as well as to force the policy makers.

Unfortunately, policies are usually hesitant to adopt new technologies and shift in the main players from operators to commons. It takes decades to confince the regulators that such pro-people policy will open the opportunity in the country to shift from consumer into producer.

Indonesian has proved people's power capable to shift 2.4GHz policy. Our challange in the next decades would be to shift operator based telco & cellular network policy into people's based telco & cellullar network policy.

Pranala Menarik