Designing For/With People With Low Bandwidth

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Example use cases we're interested or things folks are working on

  • Low power, out of date Android phones used in Africa
  • Small lower power devices like Raspberry Pis
  • Distributed social networks like Scuttlebut
  • Mesh networks used in disaster recovery
  • Improving widely used website platforms
  • Improve online tools that were not built with low bandwidth users in mind
  • USSD mobile protocol for simple menus options over a dial pad (used mainly outside the US)
    • Used widely for mobile money/payments
    • Cost is high - 10-20k for each phone company
  • Compared to IVR voice menu system used over the phone

Types of solutions

  • Mobile - USSD, mobile money/payments
  • Bit size and graphics for web sites
  • Browser based - Progressive Web Apps
  • Offline servers
    • Large content like Wikipedia, Khan Academy, Open Street Maps, etc
    • Tiny server equivalents like Kiwix and the Offline Archive
    • Internet in a box, Rachel, Freedom Box, Bibliotecs that take these applications and bundle them together into local, offline servers
  • Local partners like mesh networks, local messaging services, Fediverse, Activity Pub standard

Most of the peer-to-peer technologies don't work in this space because they have a high protocol overhead that takes too much bandwidth

Development tools

  • Browser development tools can simulate low bandwidth websites
  • netdm simulates network latency


  • Example of Facebook partnering with mobile providers to have data used to access Facebook be for free, but paid for all other web services

Sidebar: how mobile payments work

  • Started as exchanging credit for minutes on a phone plan
  • Evolved into sending money
  • SIM card acts as a wallet
  • Go to a kiosk and purchase credit that goes on your SIM card that can be sent to other users in that phone network
  • Being limited to sending and receiving money in a particular network is problematic