Nipple wrote: junglesmacks wrote:
bradtem wrote:Too bad the openBTS crew decided to switch to custom sims or you could do a phone-in show with people in gate line or even a chat room. (They had to switch to custom sims because the company putting in the external cell towers didn't like the competition, sigh. openBTS was the tool that was making the on-playa-only GSM network for SMS and some voice.)
Yeah.. that's uh.. quite a shame.
(I'm not involved with OpenBTS)
Well... it's also not the story. It's a neat project. The OpenBTS guys make tiny cellsites that can be rapidly deployed and are largely in use in other areas of the world where communications are tightly controlled by the government. The attempt is to democratize communication and put it in the hands of the people. It's also an interesting model for disaster recovery... where you have to build a temporary city for people due to external factors (disaster, uprising, refugees) and get them connected again. Kind of like a Hexayurt model, but with communications. The OpenBTS guys have used the Playa the last couple years as a test bed and proof of concept. The software is open for anyone to take and add on to, which is a really good thing.
I don't know in previous years, what frequencies they were radiating on. For a living, I design and deploy wireless telephone networks for a US Wireless carrier, if they were radiating on frequencies I have license for... I would be VERY unhappy. Not because of competition... but because you're FUCKING UP MY SHIT with INTERFERENCE.
This year, they went to the FCC and got a special license to radiate on the frequencies that are used in China for cellular/wireless phones. In the states, those are DoD bands... BUT they were given license to use them, which is why they went to the ChinaMobile SIMs.
I spent some time talking to the guys. They idea isn't to connect people to the outside world (They don't connect to the PSTN, only internally...the functionality is there, but only the people who run the network can use it) but rather connect people within the city. They were running (when it worked) a "Burner Roulette" line. You dial 777 on the phone, and you're connected to a random person on the Playa with one of these phones. Kind of a neat toy... it'll be interesting to see what they do with it in coming years.
I have helped out the openBTS crew. It is a great project, very appropriate for burning man. The first time out the goal was to provide a useful on-playa service (SMS from playa to playa, not to the outside world) using their software defined radio system, and at the same time to stress test their system in the one place in the world that has no cellular service to interfere with, and yet thousands of cell phones at the same time. There is nowhere else like it, and being able to hook up with friends with you on the playa via SMS is really cool. They also had some voice support but to reduce bandwidth they did not want to provide that. Later on, however, a company decided it wanted to provide commercial cellular service during Burning Man. The BMOrg was against it, preferring to not have people wandering the playa talking to their friends in the default world all day. (Everybody was cool with playa to playa, no different than the FRS radios and staff radios you find all over the place.)
Alas, they could not stop it, and the company (Alltel I think?) set up and provided crappy service to Verizon and AT&T customers. But now that they were operating in the area, they had the right to complain about openBTS operating on "their" band. They said it was only one year but they came back. Eventually openbts decided to use the European bands, which of course AT&T does not use but most phones today can switch to -- some manually, many automatically. But then the cell company complained more and they switched to only working with phones when people came and got a special SIM just for them, which really cut back on the number of phones they talked to.
That was both good and bad. In the early experiments, there were so many phones on the playa that when their tower started up, it got back responses from more phones that it could handle. Who would figure that thousands would leave their phones on in a place with no service? But they do. (If you connected, you got a text telling you to text back the phone number you wanted to have on playa, and after you did that, people could text you with that number.)
Anyway, just brainstorming, I imagined that if the airwaves became free again, it would be fun if a gate radio station had a small microcell, and people in the gate line could call in and chat, tell their story of what they were going to do on the playa this year, promote their camp, tell past stories. A fun phone in show, something to listen to while in gate line -- while also learning the rules of gate. It would be an experiment to see if it got people to do a more orderly gate and more aware of how to do things.
You don't have to go as high tech as openbts. You could also create a small radio station with FRS radios. Over the FM radio you could tell folks with FRS to call in on one channel if they want to talk, and then once they were up, to switch to another channel to have a walkie-talkie chat. Not as nice as cellular and some risk of interference from people in gate line, and to a limited extent from the city itself, which is a total FRS chatterbox -- so much so that some people have given up on FRS. FRS' range is small enough that from gate to city interference should be less, but many people carry more powerful GMRS radios these days that can go that far.