Armageddon cell phones

February 25, 2011

I’ve been obsessing over this for a year now, and the monkey on my back is growing.  None of these ideas can possibly be new, but I haven’t yet met them all in one place.

I’m not posting this today to show off how smart I am.  Rather, this is me asking for help with better understanding and appreciating how and why the following scheme is hard.  ‘Because surely it is.

Like most pre-to-post-middle-aged people, I’m just shocked by useful text messages are, and by extension low-bandwidth services like Twitter.  Between them and a few slick Ajax websites, I can conduct nearly all of my daily communicating business through a very slow internet connection.  56kbit on a high-def iPhone 4 Retina display beats the heck out of megabit broadband on a dingdang Treo.  Believe me.

The fact that I pay $90/month for an iPhone just to access these low-bandwidth services (and the occasional voice call) just drives me crazy.  But I pay it because it’s worth it!  Still, that’s no excuse for not trying to reduce that cost for myself and others.

So.  Fast-forwarding to the end, ask yourself:

Would you accept a $0/month cell phone bill if it came with these restrictions:

  1. When in a Wifi hotspot (near your or anyone else’s home or workplace) everything works: voice calls, web and text/voice messages.
  2. When not in a Wifi hotspot, you’re limited to slow web (no flash or pictures) and text/voice messages only.
  3. When there’s no Wifi hotspot anywhere between you and the person you’re messaging, you’re limited to text/voice messages only, between the two of you, and no voice calls or web at all.

As for me, my answer is: “heck yes,” and I’m a relatively rich person.  If I were a seamstress in Calcutta, hustling to make connections to survive, it would be “hell yes.”

So.  What I’m effectively describing/proposing is a “cell phone” that doesn’t have a cell connection at all, but instead hacks/hotwires Wifi and Bluetooth (and some 2.4GHz medium-range protocol?), through some crazy-genius protocol, to effect these three operating modes, downshifting from one to the other when necessary:

  1. When in a Wifi hotspot, it uses that connection to do everything though that fast connection: voice calls, fast web, text messages, etc.
  2. When not in a Wifi hotspot, it does the message-passing ad-hoc-network thing, each message frog-hopping from one phone to another until reaching a wifi hotspot.  Those frog-hops are done over phone-to-phone password-free Wifi or Bluetooth (or some other 2.4GHz protocol?) connections.
  3. When there’s no Wifi hotspot in town at all, it frog-hops all the way from one phone to another, not touching the internet at all.  So, as long as the guy I’m contacting is in town, I can still text him.

In everyone’s home and workplace is a $50 wall-wart from China.  This wall-wart knows the local Wifi password for that establishment and is the “gateway” between this proposed phone-to-phone network and the real-deal internet.  The trick is that the wall-wart allows full-speed internet access to its owner and his buddies, but “leftovers” throttled/slower access to everyone else.  There has to be a reason why the owner bought and paid for it, and that’s my best guess as to what that reason could be.

Another guess as to why the person bought and installed the wall-wart is that access to this network isn’t $0/month, but rather $10/month, and he is compensated when data comes in/out the internet through his wall-wart, so that it pays for itself eventually and then some if it’s in a good location.

(Of course eventually, if this scheme were successful, this technology would be just built right into people’s routers with no need for secondary wall-warts at all.)

And then sometimes, like when you’re trying to overthrow the government and they shut down the internet and cell network altogether, the phones just pass messages to each other and that’s the whole story.  So through this minimal do-it-yourself local-Twitter text-message capability, people in a city could still pass information to each other and organize.

That’s pretty much the story.  I need all the help I can get with figuring this out, and and also learning who’s doing it already.  This is something I can believe in.

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2 Responses to “Armageddon cell phones”


  1. BTW the word you’re looking for is “mesh network”.


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