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Locating the ‘previously thought extinct’ Brazilian dongle

By Juliano Andrade Spyer, on 3 June 2013

Photo by Juliano Spyer

“Who uses a dongle nowadays?” was the question that crossed my mind when I heard Shriram mentioning that these devices represented an important means by which many Indian people connected to the internet. In my world, dongles used as wireless modems belonged to the past. What was the point of using a dongle if mobiles could do the trick when people find themselves in a place where broadband is not available?

Not very long after arriving at my field site here in Brazil, a friend took me on a short car trip to outside of the urbanised area in which I now live.

Soon after we left we arrived in a rural area. There were small properties on both sides of the road but houses were not always visible due to the vegetation and the abundance of large fruit trees that most properties have.

Suddenly my friend and I saw a sign, shown in the above photo, saying: “I assemble and give maintenance to computers”. It was not just the content of the message that seemed interesting but also its format: a handmade painted sign, something very different from the type of aesthetics associated with computers and technology today.

We stopped in front of the entrance to the site and I clapped. I wanted to know who was the person offering that kind of service.

After a bit of waiting, a women came to talk to me. She was naturally intrigued and suspicious. “City-folks” like us, people that look like tourists, do not need to have that kind of service there. But she was helpful and called her 20 year old daughter to talk to us.

I was surprised to find that it was a young woman, rather than a man, who was offering that service. Computers are usually associated with young men. She told me she had attended some short technical courses and had also learned from experience playing with her own computer.

But why would someone have a computer there? What kind of internet connection did they have? – “Unlocked dongles”, she promptly replied. The dongle allowed sim-cards to be directly connected to the computer.

– “At our own home we have two such dongles, and there are many neighbors using the same solution,” she added.

If other solutions  are not available or are not affordable, this mobile provider allows a monthly connection for as low as 10 reais (close to 3.30 pounds). And the client did not have to buy the dongle from the mobile provider as unlocked equipment can be purchased for around 100 reais or 33 pounds.