VIENTIANE, Laos -- Five villages in a remote section of Laos, a rural southeast Asian country, have access to state-of-the-art telecommunications, thanks to a wireless Wide-Area Network (WAN). Jhai Foundation, a nonprofit organization that brings technology and community development to the Laotian countryside, has developed and tested a custom designed, solid-state computer linking the villages via wireless technology.

The project responds to villagers' needs for telecommunications, business opportunities and enhanced education for their children through the development of a solid-state, low- wattage computer that can be powered by a foot-crank, a high-bandwidth wireless network and support for village small businesses.

"What we're building is a system to last for years ... a whole socio/technical/economic tool that looks like a system and is owned by poor people. [This is] a sustainable, replicable solution," said Lee Thorn, who founded the Jhai Foundation.

The system's components include:

* A rugged computer and printer assembled from off-the-shelf components that draws less than 20 watts in normal use - less than 70 watts when the printer is printing - and that can survive dirt, heat, and immersion in water.

* A wireless wide area network with relay stations based on the 802.11b protocol, which will transmit signals between the villages and a server located at the Phon Hong Hospital for switching to the Internet or the Lao telephone system.

* A computer powered by a bicycle-crank generator charging an automotive battery.

* A Lao-language version of the free, Linux-based KDE graphical desktop and Lao-language office tools.