And then there was Fido

Submitted by anna on Wed, 2006-11-15 11:20.

Between 1990 and 1997, Internet 'gateways' using simple 'store-and-forward' technology called 'Fidonet**, provided in many cases, the only means of cheap, efficient electronic communications to thousands of individuals, NGOs, Acadamics, Researchers and quasi-governmental departments in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe.

Due to the particularly robust nature of the Fidonet protocol (incorporating sophisticated error correction and providing very high of data compression), that it was designed for use on DOS based PC’s and was a ‘store-and-forward’ technology (meaning people could compose and read their email offline) it proved to be very appropriate for use in situations where phone line quality was poor, reliable electricity supply problematic, costs of communications expensive, and where people had access to low specification hardware(mainly 286 and 386 PC’s).

** Fidonet is the ‘protocol’ (a special set of rules that end points in a telecommunication connection use when they communicate) which is used by networks of computers which communicate with one another via telephone calls.

For many of the above reasons, Fidonet technology provided the basis for the the first use of email and electronic conferencing for many NGOs and individuals in developing countries.

However, most of the networks which provided email and electronic conferencing services to NGOS in the North (in the late 80’s and early 90’s) used a different protocol as the basis of communication – the UUCP (unix to unix copy) protocol. The Fidonet and UUCP protocols were incompatible, meaning that people who sent email from systems using UUCP based protocols, were unable to read email sent from systems using the Fidonet protocol (and vice versa).

The solution to this problem was to build ‘gateways’ or ‘hubs’ which would convert information coming from UUCP based systems to a format which would be understood by FidoNet based systems (and vice versa). These gateways were developed and installed at many APC member networks in the early 90’s and between them provided some of the only means of affordable electronic communication between NGOS in developed and developing countries. International phone calls were made on a daily basis from the gateways, to over 50 small hosts in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe, delivering mail from, and collecting mail to, their respective user communities.

Between 1990 and 1997, it is estimated that somewhere between 2 and 5 million messages were sent across the Fido gateways, at a cost of about $0.30 per message. This compared very favourably with the cost of an international (or even STD) phone call (often costing between US$5 and $10 per minute) and faxes.

Fidonet gateways were installed at Web Networks (Canada), IGC (USA), GreenNet (UK), Laneta (Mexico), Comlink (Germany), Nordnet (Sweden) and Worknet/Sangonet (South Africa).

  • The IGC gateway provided some of the only means of communication between NGOS in the rest of the world and NGOs in Central America
  • The Web networks gateway provided the first connection to an email host in Zimbabwe and the only means of communication to Cuba during the USA embargos
  • The Comlink gateway was critical as a hub for communications from and between email hosts in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia during the war in the early 90’s
  • The Pegasus gateway provided the earliest means of communication to members of the PACTOC network in the Pacific Islands
  • The GreenNet gateway provided connectivity to almost 50 small hosts in Africa, South and South East Asia and Central and Eastern Europe
  • The Laneta gateway
  • Kenya - ELCI Oct-89
  • Uganda - Mukla Dec-90
  • Zambia - UNZA Dec-90
  • Zimbabwe - Mango Oct-91
  • Senegal - Endadak Dec-91
  • Ghana - Ghastinet Feb-92
  • Tanzania - Costech Mar-92
  • Ghana - Foeghana Apr-92
  • Kenya - ARCC Apr-92
  • Philippines - Emc Apr-92
  • Tunisia - Endarab Oct-92
  • Ethiopia - Padis Jul-93
  • Gambia - ACHRDS Jul-93
  • Tanzania - TanHlthAug-93
  • Bangladesh - UBINIGSep-93
  • India - Bombay Sep-93
  • Eritrea - ADAL Apr-94
  • Angola - Angonet Feb-94
  • Eritrea - EISA Apr-94
  • Kenya - Arso Apr-94
  • Sri Lanka - Lanknet Apr-94
  • Tanzania - Ceest Apr-94
  • Tanzania - Marie Apr-94
  • Kenya - Thorntree Jul-94
  • Ghana - AAU Sep-94
  • Nigeria - Fepa Sep-94
  • Sierra Leone - USL Nov-94
  • Morroco - EndamagDec-94
  • Tanzania - Unidar Dec-94
  • Cameroon - Camfido Mar-95
  • Nigeria - GACOM Mar-95
  • Uganda - Tmail Mar-95
  • Nigeria - Arcis Apr-95
  • Nigeria - Chestrad Apr-95
  • Nigeria - LTDPA Apr-95
  • Chad - Chadnet May-95
  • Nigeria - Hisen May-95
  • Ghana - Accra Tel. Jun-95
  • Ghana - UG Jun-95
  • Uganda - Muknet Jul-95
  • Gambia - Geisnet Aug-95
  • Ghana - UCC Aug-95
  • Ethiopia - Hornet Sep-95
  • Ghana - GCES Oct-95
  • Ghana - UST Oct-95
  • Nigeria - Efnet Nov-95
  • Tanzania - Hnettan Nov-95
  • Kenya - UMSG Jan-96
  • Sierra Leone - Sec.Jan-96
  • Kenya - ShaneFeb-96
  • Mali - Balanzan Feb-96

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    Andrew Garton (not verified)

    It should be noted that a Fidonet gateway was also installed at Pegasus Networks.

    In addition, a dedicated Fidonet service, Pactok, was in operation throughout the Pacific Islands also serving PNG, East Timor, Indonesia, Sarawak, Thailand and Cambodia.

    Pactok was a Pegasus Networks associate and eventually became an associate member of the APC.


    Anriette Esterhuysen (not verified)

    The best of wishes to the GreenNet collective and all who have been part of it, past and present. And to the GreenNet users... the people and organisations one loves to love and loves to moan about at times.. but also the people who make it all worth it in the end.

    I have a comment on the 'and then there was Fido' piece. Great to see it, but..What about UUCP?

    SANGONeT (which I was involved in at the time) had a dial-up UUCP connection with GreenNet for several years.. our link to the rest of the world. Also, please add some information on the WorkNet / SANGONeT Fido Gateway... it ran for about 10 years and connected Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and at times a few other countries as well... and several Fido networks inside South Africa.

    Happy to help you find the details.

    Warmest wishes from me. APC is really, really proud to have GreenNet as a founding member.