Make free calls from mobile phones

Thursday, September 27, 20070 comments

A Swedish company is testing a peer-to-peer technology that could allow mobile phone users to call one another directly without needing to bother with those pesky cell towers. TerraNet's technology uses cellular handsets modified to act as peers and nodes on a mesh network.

Here's how it works. Each handset looks for other handsets within a 2km range. Calls and text messages are then routed through the handset nodes, with a maximum of seven hops, until they reach their destination. As the company points out, that's enough to cover a rural village or a disaster zone.

TerraNet's technology is being field tested in Tanzania and Ecuador, and the company is also adapting VoIP technology to make calls between mesh networks. All that is needed are a couple of Internet-equipped PCs. Each PC has a USB dongle attached that acts as an access point for a mesh network. Calls are then routed through the PC and over the Internet to the destination network, drastically increasing the effective range.

Cell phones need a hardware upgrade in order to take advantage of the networks, but TerraNet hopes to see support for P2P coming from handset manufacturers. So far, only Ericsson has signed on, with TerraNet founder Anders Carlius telling the BBC that the Swedish company had invested £3 million in his company.

TerraNet's technology could be a boon to some handset manufacturers, however. The potential exists for handset makers to sell millions of inexpensive phones in areas where cellular coverage is spotty or just plain unavailable—all without relying on a cellular carrier to act as a sales conduit.
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