gsm mesh network without cell towers or telcos

Al Johnson openmoko at
Tue Jul 13 11:18:48 CEST 2010

On Tuesday 13 July 2010, Robin Paulson wrote:
> i heard about this on radio nz national yesterday: a uni researcher in
> australia has designed and implemented a system for building
> distributed, de-centralised mesh networks out of (so i understand it)
> gsm phones
> yes,
> no cell towers needed
> no telcos needed

That's not quite how I understand it - see below

> i can't find much on him, beyond his web page at the university:
> which has these snippets:

He also mentions using OpenBTS which is an open GSM basestation implementation 
that's been mentioned on this list several times. In testing at Burning Man it 
was used to allow calls between GSM handsets on its cell (plus SIP backhaul?), 
but that was only possible because the location is so remote there wasn't a 
chance of interference with licensed gsm operators. 

> # Implementing the Mesh Potato feature-set on Android based smart
> phones to enable the creation of mixed mobile and land-line
> self-meshing ad-hoc telephone networks

Mesh Potato is a device with ethernet, WiFi and FXS, meshing via BATMAN, and 
asterisk. Plug an analogue phone or fax into the FXS and make calls over the 
mesh network.

More here:

> # Creating distributed infrastructure-free protocols that allow people
> to use their existing telephone numbers on ad-hoc telephone networks,
> both for temporary disaster-relief telephony and ad-hoc telephony for
> remote and emerging regions.

I guess this is about protocols to allow autoconfiguration of phone services 
running on the mesh nodes, with Mesh Potato and OpenBTS devices talking to 
each other on the same mesh.

> he talks about using it for disaster relief, but i think that's a
> trivial use: breaking the stranglehold of mobile telcos over us is far
> more venerable

This would need universal coverage of the WiFi mesh, or a major change in 
radio licensing. Existing telcos have paid a lot for their gsm spectrum 
licenses and won't give them up willingly. That means you can't use the GSM 
bit anywhere they have the licenses, limiting you to remote areas where you 
don't interfere (see Burning Man example) or disaster relief where licensing 
restrictions may be relaxed.

> has anyone else heard of this? does anyone else have better google
> skills and can find more?
> i'd love to see this or an equivalent on the openmoko. now *that*
> would 'free my phone'

Mesh Potato software is based on OpenWRT, and there's an OpenWRT port for 
openmoko. It shouldn't be too hard to port. Similarly we have Android on the 
openmoko, and part of the work mentioned is getting it onto Android devices. 
That gives two routes to having this on openmoko.

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