Internet in the bush

Game drive streaming service Painted Dog TV has built its own wireless network in the Balule Nature Reserve in the iconic Greater Kruger National Park.

Painted Dog TV is one of several game drive streaming broadcasters operating in South Africa, and they all require an Internet connection to provide their services.

South African investigative news programme Carte Blanche recently featured the conservation-driven virtual safari provider in a recent episode.

Carte Blanche journalist and producer Sasha Schwendenwein spoke to Cape Talk’s Pippa Hudson and gave a summary of Painted Dog’s network.

She explained that Painted Dog TV’s CTO Wium Dornbrack had developed a system to create an Internet network in the bush.

“He created something that he’s named the ‘treepeater’, which is basically an Internet repeater, that has little towers that go all the way from Hoedspruit to Painted Dog,” Schwendenwein said.

“These little things are in the trees. No animals can see them.”

“At the same time that sends the Internet signal to the vehicles, and I promise you I had better signal out there than I do in Johannesburg,” she said.

Painted Dog TV CFA Charles Collocott told MyBroadband that the Treepeater network is used to establish Internet connectivity to its sites and live bush cameras.

He added that Painted Dog TV’s live cameras were scattered across the 75km network and that its system is capable of speeds up to 165Mbps.

Painted Dog TV’s backhaul connection is provided by Telkom in the form of two 100Mbps fibre lines, and Collocott said that it would soon add another to be supplied by Herotel.

The network within the Balule Nature Reserve appears to be similar to a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) network.

Wisps are Internet service providers (ISPs) that offer subscribers a point-to-point wireless connection to the Internet, usually over a technology that uses unlicensed radio frequency spectrum like Wi-Fi.

In recent years, significant improvements have been made to wireless technology, and Wisps can now offer speeds of up to 100Mbps.

Painted Dog TV offers a service unlike any other — private virtual safaris with restrictions on the number of viewers — and its proceeds are earmarked for conservation.

“Their money goes towards conservation. It’s not geared for profit,” Schwendenwein said.

For private virtual safaris, which are streamed on private YouTube feeds or Zoom and allow a limited number of guests, prices to book a slot start at $15 (R224).

Exclusive virtual safaris start at $490 (R7,330) and are limited to include only friends and family.

Additionally, it has live-streamed some of its conservation efforts, including live elephant and wild dog collaring and the release of rescued wild dogs.

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