The island phone system adventure…

February 25, 2010 at 4:27 am 11 comments

So, I’m on Niue – which is a small island nation in the South Pacific. We are working to install a pilot system to provide mobile phone coverage for the island’s 1000 inhabitants and the few thousand tourists a year who come here to enjoy the island’s way of life.

Harvind Samra, David Burgess, Taiichi Fox , Tim Panton in Niue

The island currently has no GSM operator – the only mobile phones are old analog “AMPS” devices. I can’t think of the last time I arrived somewhere and didn’t get a signal at the airport.

We are hoping to install OpenBTS to act as the GSM infrastructure on a TV tower, and connect it to the island’s telephone exchange using Asterisk . These open source components combined with some commodity hardware and some special purpose parts (antenna etc.) should combine to create a low cost mobile phone system for an entire (if small) nation.

Here’s what we have in mind:

As expected the unexpected has happened.

The only way to get to Niue is on the weekly flight from Auckland – we came on the plane last weekend, unfortunately our equipment didn’t. Much of it is still sitting in a customs warehouse in Auckland. We await the next plane with an-tici-pa-tion.

Fortunately we have quite a bit to be going on with. We have acquainted ourselves with the local conditions and started work on putting in the Wifi link from the tower to the telephone center.

Trying to get a stable wifi link

I’ll keep you posted on how we get on.

Links: Part 2 Part 3 OpenBTS blog


Entry filed under: Uncategorized, VoIP. Tags: , , , .

Async Voice in Googlewave The first GSM call on Niue

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Imran Ali  |  February 25, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Dude, you need to get this story and your project Boing Boinged!

    • 2. babyis60  |  February 25, 2010 at 6:24 pm

      I would like to have it up and running before we make too much noise 🙂

  • 3. Mark Cross  |  February 25, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Thanks for the info. Please post updates.

    • 4. babyis60  |  February 26, 2010 at 12:25 am

      Sure, I will do, when time and connectivity permit.

  • 5. dean  |  February 25, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Very interesting stuff Tim!

    Dare I ask how billing is to be handled?

    • 6. babyis60  |  February 26, 2010 at 12:28 am

      We won’t be billing during the early testing, we need to get the radio layer stable first.
      After that we will probably route all the calls through the existing switch and let it handle the billing in the usual way.

  • 7. Andrew Back  |  March 8, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Great project! A few questions:

    – How did you get a spectrum licence? Or is this a non-issue on such a small island nation?

    – Am I right in guessing that all calls will be plaintext (without A/5 encryption)?

    – Will you have to pre-provision your users? I’m guessing that people can’t just “roam” as you’ll have no agreements in place with the major networks, and you’ll need to be able to bill people somehow.

  • 8. babyis60  |  March 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Our customer applied to the Government of Niue for a license, it was discussed in cabinet and agreed.

    The calls are plaintext at present. One of the problems with the old AMPS system was that it was possible to listen to other people’s calls using your TV ! At least we don’t have that problem.

    This stage of the trial didn’t cover billing or provisioning issues.
    We expect to discuss this in the next phases of the project, but it is already clear that Asterisk and OpenBTS provide us with enough flexibility to deliver a tidy solution.

    OpenBTS does however have a lovely ‘auto-provisioning’ mode where it allows new phones to provision themselves via text messages – which is ideal for ad-hoc deployments like festivals or disaster areas.

  • […] Part 1 Part 2 OpenBTS blog Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The island phone system […]

  • 10. Michel's Communication Blog » First OpenBTS Pilote Site  |  March 16, 2010 at 5:28 am

    […] are STILL BLAMING US.) If you need a blog fix right away though, Tim Panton managed to squeeze a posting […]

  • […] this recent article for additional examples in Bukuuku, Uganda, in Haiti, and on the Island of Niue. […]


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