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Open Source Tech Providing Mobile Communications In Developing Nations

Soulskill posted about 10 months ago | from the ingenuity-plus-free-tools-equals-ubiquitous-communication dept.

Open Source 20

An anonymous reader writes "A village in the West Papua central highlands runs a telecom network out of a box latched to a tree. The network runs on open source. 'OpenBTS, an all-software cellular transceiver, is at the heart of the network running on that box attached to a treetop. Someday, if those working with the technology have their way, it could do for mobile networks what TCP/IP and open source did for the Internet. The dream is to help mobile break free from the confines of telephone providers' locked-down spectrum, turning it into a platform for the development of a whole new range of applications that use spectrum "white space" to connect mobile devices of every kind. It could also democratize telecommunications around the world in unexpected ways. ... It is a 2G GSM system with two operating channels (GSM absolute radio-frequency channel numbers, or ARFCNs) in the 900MHz range, putting out 10 watts of signal power from an omnidirectional antenna. That gives the system a range of about five kilometers under ideal conditions, but in reality it averages about a three kilometer range because of vegetation and terrain (1.86 miles to 3.10 miles). The whole system is installed in a weatherproof box up a tree and draws less than 80 watts of power.'"

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That's great... (1)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about 10 months ago | (#46376537)

Now try it in a developed country where the open spectra are awash with millions of interfering gadgets.

Re:That's great... (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 10 months ago | (#46376567)

Why?

Re:That's great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46376649)

Because Dogecoin.

Re:That's great... (3, Insightful)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about 10 months ago | (#46376685)

Because TFS claims this could revolutionize the world by letting mobile 'break free' from restricted spectrum.

Meanwhile, back in reality, in heavily congested areas you're lucky to get a signal twenty meters using omnidirectional antennas and public spectrum. And it would be even worse if power restrictions didn't keep transmission range short.

I realize Slashdot caters to the Libertarian fringe, but the whole reason we have 'locked-down spectrum' is to avoid the tragedy of the commons scenario that occurs when devices interfere at random and everybody keeps kicking the power higher and higher trying to shout over the crowd until the spectrum is no good to anyone.

Re:That's great... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 10 months ago | (#46376825)

Because TFS claims this could revolutionize the world by letting mobile 'break free' from restricted spectrum. Meanwhile, back in reality, in heavily congested areas...

..like...

Aaaafricaaaa... (cue distant ethnic drum sounds)

Re:That's great... (1)

bug1 (96678) | about 10 months ago | (#46377429)

Meanwhile, back in reality, in heavily congested areas you're lucky to get a signal twenty meters using omnidirectional antennas and public spectrum.

First World Problems

I realize Slashdot caters to the Libertarian fringe, but the whole reason we have 'locked-down spectrum' is to avoid the tragedy of the commons scenario that occurs when devices interfere at random and everybody keeps kicking the power higher and higher trying to shout over the crowd until the spectrum is no good to anyone.

Can you not think of yourself for once, is it possible that a problem could be solved for developing countries that doesnt benefit developed countries. Maybe one day they can teach us how to better manage our spectrum by cooperating more. Is that something you want to tear down with your negativity.

Re:That's great... (2)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about 10 months ago | (#46378231)

I have no problem with this technology. It could open up many small rural communities not "worth" reaching by conventional systems, and for that I applaud it.

But even many developing countries have high population density, and a disorganized system running on a narrow frequency band will quickly run into problems of scale.

And the summary's grandiose claims that this technology could "do for mobile networks what TCP/IP and open source did for the Internet...help mobile break free from the confines of telephone providers' locked-down spectrum...democratize telecommunications around the world" are patently ridiculous.

To use the /.-approved Vaguely Relevant Car Analogy(tm):

A village in the West Papua central highlands has built their own road. Despite being made of smoothed dirt and barely wide enough for one vehicle, it meets the needs of the twenty-some villagers. Proponents of the technology claim these independent 'dirt roads' could help free transit from the grip of the heavily regulated national road networks, and may soon democratize travel around the world.

Re:That's great... (1)

bug1 (96678) | about 10 months ago | (#46380291)

Maybe it will scale better if they dont need to shout over each other.

Re:That's great... (1)

bug1 (96678) | about 10 months ago | (#46377317)

If i had mod points i would give your one word reply a;
+1 insightful

Re:That's great... (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 10 months ago | (#46379039)

How about that they have [networkworld.com] ?

These OpenBTS guys have been running a cell phone network at the Burning Man festival for several years now as a way to prototype and test the technology. Yes, they got the necessary FCC permits as well and understand not just the technical but also the legal issues involved. The only thing they lack is the money to buy the necessary cell phone tower, and that is mainly buying the permanent license rather than trying to set up a cell tower temporarily in a place in the middle of nowhere.

These guys have also set up low-power cell network demonstrations at several conferences in 1st world countries where they demonstrate the technology on stage during the conference.

Seriously, try to RTFA and learn about the group first. I'll admit you don't want to set up a cell tower of your own unlicensed and within a block of a major carrier, which seems to be what you are suggesting they accomplish.

Re:That's great... (1)

invictusvoyd (3546069) | about 10 months ago | (#46380031)

and now try it in a developing country where open spectra are awash with scams and millions of interfering politiians.

Did anyone think of the legal angle ?

Old iPhones can now be re-purposed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46376773)

...as tablets for the Pygmies!

(Lord, I apologize, and be with the starvin' Pygmies down there in New Guinea. Amen.)

Not "all software" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46376911)

It's not "all software", as if abstracted to some magic box on a pole running software. The air interface certainly uses an FPGA defined by HDL.

hardware description language is software, /. says (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about 10 months ago | (#46376971)

Did you forget that you're on Slashdot? On Slashdot, if it can be written, it's "software". Never mind that it's a written description of physical objects. Just last night, some here on Slashdot were arguing that machines made of gears and levers can be described in writing, which means machines made of gears and levers are software, which means ______, which means machines made of gears and levers aren't patentable.

They never do quite fill in that blank space. Sometimes they say something about math, but they never mention wtf math has to do with anything.

YOU FAIL IT (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46377065)

You'd wish to have such a box up a tree... (3)

TuringCheck (1989202) | about 10 months ago | (#46377257)

In plenty of remote or rural areas of the United States there's little to none mobile coverage. As large carriers are reaping profits from high speed networks in populated areas they don't care a lot about a few potential subscribers at a farm.

Re:You'd wish to have such a box up a tree... (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 10 months ago | (#46379083)

I know of some places where farms and ranches represent the populated areas... and the rest of the area is genuine wilderness complete with bears, mountain lions, and wolves (not to mention deer, chipmunks, and other not so aggressive wildlife). On the other hand, there are some occasional hikers who get lost where setting up a cell tower in a box would be useful if only as a search & rescue operation (so different search parties can communicate with each other & the base with simply ordinary cell phones). There is also a local Boy Scout camp that I'd love to set one of these devices up at for emergency communications and troop to troop communications.

I can imagine some applications that major carriers simply wouldn't care for because there isn't any profit to be made in such an activity, but none the less would be very useful. Reading up on what and where these OpenBTS guys have already established transmitters (including one on the island of Niue [sourceforge.net] that is permanent) shows at least some of the range that these systems could be established.

Re:You'd wish to have such a box up a tree... (1)

hjf (703092) | about 10 months ago | (#46379385)

This is completely irrelevant for your application. If you're in the Middle Of Nowhere, you'll just use a basic radio. VHF can go for tens of kilometers in open space. This "box" you talk about will give you ISOLATED cell phone coverage, it will not connect to the rest of the system. And if we're into that, we might as well use regular analog handhelds that just work.

Any handheld radio can go for days without a charge. Your iphone, if looking for a signal, will drain the battery in just a couple of hours.

Re:You'd wish to have such a box up a tree... (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 10 months ago | (#46380131)

Most people have a cell phone if they are volunteers in a search group. Yes, an experienced group of semi-professional or professional search & rescue guys will have milspec radios (or at least something pretty rugged) likely with some ham radio frequencies available too, but as temporary communications it does a pretty lousy job compared to cell phone coverage.

I'll admit that the applications are pretty narrow, but the real issue is availability of radios, training (it does take training to competently use some radios), licensing (even FRS radios technically require a license for each one used), and the number of people involved. By its nature cell phone connections can handle dozens or even hundreds of conversations simultaneously and contact precisely the person you need with a minimal amount of fuss if they are in the coverage of the network (even if the network is just a single tower although it could be more than that). A bunch of VHF radios get very crowded with chatter if you have more than a couple dozen people regularly communicating with each other and needs some strict protocols for communication... like what the FAA requires for plane to ground communication.

My suggestion here is for a situation where you have a large group (100+ people) with minimal or no formal radio communications training in the middle of nowhere. Besides, once you have the phone to transmitter link, you can have other methods of communicating with the outside world linked into that central service. It would be overkill if you have a smallish group and resources to buy the radios you are talking about.

Nice.. but the radio isn't the hard part (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46379209)

Setting up a single cell is a no brainer. Now, start connecting those cells together, and managing the "network", oh, and people will expect you to do "handoffs", and then there's all the administrative aspects of paying for it... not just the capital cost, but the maintenance, and providing power.

Then, we get into the regulatory aspects, but those are pretty much solvable with money.

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