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Distributing private data in challenged network environments

Azarias Reda, Brian Noble, Yidnekachew Haile

Developing countries face significant challenges in network access, making even simple network tasks unpleasant. Many standard techniques – caching and predictive prefetching – help somewhat, but provide little or no assistance for personal data that is needed only by a single user. Sulula addresses this problem by leveraging the near-ubiquity of cellular phones able to send and receive simple SMS messages. Rather than visit a kiosk and fetch data on demand – a tiresome process at best – users request a future visit. If capacity exists, the kiosk can schedule secure retrieval of that user’s data, saving time and more efficiently utilizing the kiosk’s limited connectivity. When the user arrives at a provisioned kiosk, she need only obtain the session key on-demand, and thereafter has instant access. In addition, Sulula allows users to schedule data uploads. Experimental results show significant gains for the end user, saving tens of minutes of time for a typical email/news reading session. We also describe a small, ongoing deployment in-country for proof-of-concept, lessons learned from that experience, and provide a discussion on pricing and marketplace issues that remain to be addressed to make the system viable for developing-world access.

Link to the full paper.