Open source devotees, iPhone users and hedonists unite! News today that low cost, OpenBTS GSM cell phone service is being tested at Burning Man in a true trial-by-fire fashion:
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. Where do you want me to begin?
“We make GSM look like a wireless access point. We make it that simple,” describes one of the project’s three founders, Glenn Edens. [Network World]
The economic and environmental potential of the system is promising, particularly for remote and under-developed areas.
Certainly, the potential of OpenBTS is a winner. The system is only “as big as a shoebox,” Edens says, and requires a mere 50 watts of power “instead of a couple of thousand” so it is easily supported by solar or wind power, or batteries. It performs as well as any other GSM base station which has a maximum range of 35 kilometers and a typical range of 20 kilometers, depending on geography, antennae height, etc. […]
A full‐power base station with software costs around $10,000. Compare that to the typical $50,000 – $100,000 investment for base station controllers, mobile switching centers and “a whole lot of plumbing” to bring in power, backhaul, etc., in a traditional cellular network.
Project founders say that costs and power needs are low enough that even small villages can afford the service, for a few dollars a month per user. It was used in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, with setup taking only about an hour.
The Burning Man implementation is in its third year, and currently allows free outgoing calls. Incoming calls go to voicemail due to lack of roaming agreements with any carriers yet. A friend of mine (with an iPhone) is at Burning Man now, I’ll see if he can report on the success of this service when he’s conscious and able to communicate…