Innovation That Matters

Open source phone service for off-grid areas


Mobile phones are increasingly viewed as a critical means of improving life for those in the developing world, whether through employment, healthcare or social connections. Such opportunities depend on access to cellular service, however—and that’s where a new Silicon Valley startup comes in. Range Networks is currently developing what it calls “the world’s lowest cost, sustainable, full featured GSM infrastructure providing voice, messaging and data services for a wide range of applications and environments.” Starting with Linux-based OpenBTS, Range’s new system works with a software-defined radio such as the Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP) to present a GSM air interface to any standard GSM cell phone, according to a report in NetworkWorld. No modification of the phone is required, and the service uses open source Asterisk VoIP software as the PBX to connect calls. The system behind it all is reportedly the size of a shoebox, and it requires just 50 watts of power to operate, making it very amenable to solar power or other off-grid energies. Performance is much like that of any other GSM base station, NetworkWorld reports, and the system is capable of using a wireless backhaul as well. Costs and power needs are within reach of even a small village, Range says. Range has already shipped about 150 of its OpenBTS systems around the world, including to India, Africa, the South Pacific and Haiti after the earthquake. Currently, the system is being used to provide free cell service at the Burning Man festival in Nevada. Range, meanwhile, is expected to emerge from stealth mode later this month; until then, updates can be found on the OpenBTS blog. Social and mobile entrepreneurs: a functionall* innovation to get involved in early…? Spotted by: NetworkWorld via Katherine Noyes * No, that wasn’t a typo 😉 Functionall is a trend defined by our sister-site as follows: “The phenomenon of simple, small and/or cheap products and services designed for low(er)-income consumers in emerging markets, with cross-over appeal to consumers in mature consumer societies.” Check out’s briefing for more examples.



Download PDF