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The trouble with OpenBTS

Mar 06, 2009, 01:34 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jonathan Corbet)

"OpenBTS is clearly an interesting project; who wouldn't like the potential of rolling their own cellular phone service? There are a number of potential applications, including special events like Burning Man, the creation of personal "femtocells," or the ability to explore how cellular handsets interact with base stations. The biggest target application, though, would appear to be the provision of inexpensive cellular service in parts of the world where the cellular industry sees no money to be made. In the rural parts of the developing world, potential customers simply cannot afford to pay normal cellular rates, and carriers fear that low-cost offerings, beyond being unprofitable, would endanger the higher rates charged in the cities. Using systems like OpenBTS, cheap hardware, and some interesting business models, it may well be possible to bring phone service into these areas in a way which is simultaneously affordable and acceptable to the large carriers.

"So what is the problem with OpenBTS? One might think that an obvious trouble spot would be regulatory: spectrum for cellular services tends to be scarce and expensive. It is true that one cannot set up an OpenBTS station in the attic and expect to be left alone, but it also seems that the regulatory issues can often be dealt with, especially in places where cellular coverage does not exist. The real issues come from a different, all-too-familiar direction: "intellectual property" law."

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