Wilderness communication without cell towers

July 14, 2010

(Village Telco)

Australian scientists have invented software that enables mobile phones to work in remote areas where there is no conventional coverage and in locations where the infrastructure has been destroyed through disaster, or is not economically viable.

The “Serval Project” technology enables ordinary mobile phones to make and receive calls without the need for phone towers or satellites.

Converting a cell phone into a cell tower

The project includes two systems that can operate separately or be combined. One is specifically for disaster areas, and consists of a temporary, self-organizing and self-powered mobile phone network that operates via small phone towers dropped into the area by aircraft.

The second system consists of a permanent mesh-based phone network between Wi-Fi enabled mobile phones, with no tower infrastructure required. It incorporates a compact version of a mobile phone tower into the phone itself, using the Wi-Fi interface in Wi-Fi-enabled phones.

The current range between phones is only a few hundred meters, which limits the usefulness of the system in remote areas, but adding small transmitters and more devices could expand the range considerably.

Professor Paul Arbon, Director of the Research Centre for Disaster Resilience and Health at Flinders University, said the systems could prove invaluable in disasters, providing an instant network allowing people to call out and receive calls from concerned relatives, and helping volunteers to coordinate the response. The system could also provide the community with updates and warnings. The systems have been successfully tested in remote areas of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, where there is no mobile phone reception, with three researchers creating a network over one square kilometer.

Eventually, the system will also include the “Batphone,” a specially designed phone able to operate on other unlicensed frequencies.

More info: Serval Project