The Documentalist

Open Source Technology Making Cell Phone Service Possible Out of Network

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on August 31, 2010

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At this year’s Burning Man festival in the middle-of-nowhere Nevada, Open Source Subnet is doing their second year of testing for a low-cost cell phone network program called OpenBTS that would allow even the most impoverished areas of the world to have cell phone service.  The OpenBTS system works in conjunction with a small tower unit that can be powered with solar power, wind generation, or batteries.  As author Julie Bort states in “Burning Man’s open source cell phone system could help save the world” (read the full article for details):

Today I bring you a story that has it all: a solar-powered, low-cost, open source cellular network that’s revolutionizing coverage in underprivileged and off-grid spots. It uses VoIP yet works with existing cell phones. It has pedigreed founders. Best of all, it is part of the sex, drugs and art collectively known as Burning Man.

As stated in the article cited above, the technology will likely be announced publicly in September and developers anticipate that the whole installation kit would cost approximately $10,000 versus the $50,000 to $100,000 that typical cell phone towers cost to install.  Moreover,  it operates seamlessly with existing frequencies and networks.  Given the alternative power sources and the price point, this technology could be a reasonable alternative for cell service in remote areas with fewer financial resources.  The implications for human rights and humanitarian work are pretty clear:

“The UN and ITU studies show that when you bring communications services to an area, healthcare goes up, economic well being goes up, education goes up,” Edens says, noting that costs and power needs are low enough that even a small village can afford to do this. Users may need to pay $2 or $3 a month.


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