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Android Communications Cellphones Handhelds Networking Wireless Networking

Connecting Android Phones Without Carrier Networks 102

Posted by timothy
from the breaker-breaker dept.
After disasters (or to minimize expensive data use generally, and take advantage of available Wi-Fi), bypassing the cell network is useful. But it's not something that handset makers bake into their phones. colinneagle writes with information on a project that tries to sidestep a dependence on the cellular carriers, if there is Wi-Fi near enough for at least some users: "The Smart Phone Ad-Hoc Networks (SPAN) project reconfigures the onboard Wi-Fi chip of a smartphone to act as a Wi-Fi router with other nearby similarly configured smartphones, creating an ad-hoc mesh network. These smartphones can then communicate with one another without an operational carrier network. SPAN intercepts all communications at the Global Handset Proxy so applications such as VoIP, Twitter, email etc., work normally."
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Connecting Android Phones Without Carrier Networks

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  • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @11:59AM (#42872625) Journal

    I doubt the tyrants who control them will like that very much.

    • Nor will Warner Bros., given the name of one of the projects involved in this effort:

      movement [of devices] and changes are a constant factor, making the burden of maintaining reliable routing information difficult enough to a inspire a new routing project, called the Better-Approach-To-Mobile-Adhoc-Network (BATMAN).

      Warner owns the trademark for BATMAN, and I'm guessing this trademark is probably famous to qualify for dilution protection.

      • Does the Dark Knight carry packets around Gotham city on his utility belt or something?

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        Who cares? They can own whatever trademarks they like, it's not relevant here. It hasn't got anything to do with comic book characters.

        • I'm guessing this trademark is probably famous to qualify for dilution protection.

          it's not relevant here. It hasn't got anything to do with comic book characters.

          A trademark deemed "famous" is protected from "dilution" [wikipedia.org], or use by other parties even in unrelated fields of use.

          • by Gordonjcp (186804)

            Well, isn't it a shame that the term has been around since long before the comic book was ever thought of?

            • isn't it a shame that the term has been around since long before the comic book was ever thought of?

              What trademark law cares about with respect to priority is the "first use in commerce", that is, whether the term has been used as the distinctive name of a product or service. Did the first use of "Batman" in commerce occur before May 1939, when Detective Comics #27 was first published?

      • Warner owns the trademark for BATMAN, and I'm guessing this trademark is probably famous to qualify for dilution protection.

        I don't see why a batman couldn't carry packets in his packsaddle. They have been doing this for centuries, haven't they?

      • Nor will Warner Bros., given the name of one of the projects involved in this effort:

        I think the Serval Project [servalproject.org] would have more right to be concerned, given that it is their work that's being hidden behind the advertising-ridden link from TFA.

        It's also unsettling that work from a community project, intended to improve communications for people in need, is in the process of being "embraced" by an organisation like Mitre, funded by, and heavily tied into US Government and military. [mitre.org]

        Ad-hoc mesh networks do have the potential to be a game changer in a number of arenas. US government involvement

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @12:10PM (#42872725) Journal

      I suspect that they aren't wildly concerned:

      For users on contract or fixed-price month-to-month, carriers often have an incentive to encourage them to use wifi(unless they think you'll upgrade to a more expensive data plan, or get whacked with overage fees, the less data you use the less you cost; but you still pay the same for the service). So long as they want to continue paying, the carriers would probably be delighted to have them drop off the grid and go mesh out to their heart's content.

      Also, internet access in itself doesn't provide a phone number(though you can generally get a VOIP line more cheaply than a cell or landline), so only users who don't actually phone with their phones, or are willing to have phone access only when within range of the wifi or mesh, or who are willing to put up with having both a cell and a VOIP number, are likely to jump from their voice plan.

      Plus, wireless meshes can, unless conditions are good, exhibit some pretty tepid latency and packet loss numbers. Well worth what you (don't) pay for bulk data transport; but cuts the utility for latency-sensitive applications.

      This is hardly to say that meshes are useless(indeed, they are pretty neat, and certainly a good thing to have in place for resilience purposes and various other things); but they aren't a terribly effective direct competitor to contemporary cellular data standards, or to a one-hop wireless link to a hardline of some sort.

      • by icebike (68054)

        Agreed, probably voice is out of the question, if for no other reasons than bandwidth, to say nothing of getting the session handed off to POTS somewhere if you need to communicate outside of the immediate area.

        But text chats (google talk, twitter, etc) and email are probably enough in situations like this, as long as one of your mesh partners somewhere along the line has a working internet connection.

        The problem here is that nobody will have this set up ahead of time. So nobody will be able to download wh

    • My car will bluetooth pair with a phone, and then I can get network access through the phone's data plan.

      But, I don't want a phone, dammit. If I had a phone, people would call me. I get enough of that nonsense at work!

      All I want is the ability to use my home wifi on the car console when I'm sitting in my driveway. Without paying any monthly bills other than the one I'm already paying for my home Internet connection.

  • But in an ad-hoc mesh network made up of mobile phones, movement and changes are a constant factor, making the burden of maintaining reliable routing information difficult enough to a inspire a new routing project, called the Better-Approach-To-Mobile-Adhoc-Network (BATMAN).

    The GODDAMN BATMAN!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As far as i know only T-Mobile in the USA can use it. It is a nice feature when you are in a poor coverage area. Or traveling internationally.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      UMA?

      Unified managed account? Ukrainian Museum-Archives? Unidentified Mysterious Animal? Please update the Wikipedia with your meaning, because it is powerless here.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Unlicensed Mobile Access will be what he's talking about. Let's you use your mobile number whilst connected over WLAN for example. Basically a tunnel back from your mobile device to it's home network.
      • by Hadlock (143607)

        UMA is wifi calling for blackberries, at least on T-Mobile

    • It was a big thing with Blackberry back when Blackberry was a thing.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That only works on rooted phones

    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      So people shouldn't be allowed to have administrative acces on their own computers? You're adapting nicely to the direction that computing is headed.

    • That only works on rooted phones

      I can't imagine why a modification to the behavior of a device driver(or possibly the replacement of a device driver, depending on the features of the shipping driver) might require root access... Those lazy developers, they should have just built ad-hoc 802.11 mesh networking support in HTML5 or something.

  • Why wait for an disaster?
  • I doubt my battery on my phone will like it when you all download torrents off my unlimited bandwidth plan, or anyone else that walks near you. Once people start receiving those six strikes letters they will turn the feature off.

    • I doubt my battery on my phone will like it when you all download torrents off my unlimited bandwidth plan, or anyone else that walks near you. Once people start receiving those six strikes letters they will turn the feature off.

      I'm sure that is one way the big carriers will spin their BS to discourage smart phone users from doing anything with their property that leaves them out of the loop. If that fails, then they will get the masses to believe that doing this will open them up to liability for whatever the network boogieman du jour is at the time. And failing that, they will just purchase laws to make it outright illegal with hefty fines.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @12:19PM (#42872827)

    Let's see... an unprotected ad-hoc network that lets any and all traffic through. What could possibly go wrong?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We already have http://www.servalproject.org/ available on google play.

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @12:29PM (#42872933) Homepage

    While we are at it, can we make cell phones support WiFi for phone calls?

    The phones already have the hardware to do this. People could make calls from places where cell reception sucks but they had Wifi internet. It would also reduce the burden on cell towers as people eliminate landlines and use their cell phones at home, where they probably already have WiFi routers. It also would eliminate the need for those stupid microcells: you could just use your regular wi-fi router for calls without needing to pay for their box.

    • by jbolden (176878)

      Home wifi does not have QoS. Jitter is going to be terrible. If you are going to do this you want much more sophisticated software helping the whole thing end to end. Which is essentially what commercial SIP solutions do. Why reinvented SIP?

      • by Brianwa (692565)
        My old phone had UMA, which let me connect to my carrier network through wifi alone. I generally preferred the call quality through UMA over GSM except when the network was heavily loaded. It also let me take my phone while traveling and still be able to send texts, make calls, and check voicemail from time to time without paying a dime extra or trying to buy sim cards overseas. I think that being unable to charge roaming fees is why most carriers have either discontinued or never even tried to support t
        • by jbolden (176878)

          Really? Wow. Either your GSM network was terrible or the radio on your phone was terrible or... That's interesting though.

          • by Brianwa (692565)
            It might just be personal preference on my part. Not many people seem to complain about this, but I am pretty much incapable of deciphering speech when the newer GSM codecs switch to their lowest bandwith settings or try to fill in for dropped packets. To me it just seems like a bunch of speech-like sounds that don't resemble real words in any way. And the ~1 second latency (often times two cell phones) gets bothersome as well.

            I only noticed jitter once or twice. It was less severe than jitter I've e
      • by PRMan (959735)
        I've had Vonage for a decade and there's no jitter whatsoever. What makes you think there would be?
        • by PRMan (959735)
          In fact, my Vonage calls are actually higher quality than cell calls by far. So I would think that the perceived quality would improve, actually.
      • by icebike (68054)

        Home wifi does not have QoS. Jitter is going to be terrible. If you are going to do this you want much more sophisticated software helping the whole thing end to end. Which is essentially what commercial SIP solutions do. Why reinvented SIP?

        Actually, home wifi works great for voice. Jitter issues not withstanding.

        The built in TALK app in Android can open a voice (or video) chat with any other Android user, and the quality is more than acceptable.

        True, Sip is better. Using the built in SIP (Internet calling) feature of just about any Android phone (or any of a dozen such apps on the Play store) you can make calls to any other SIP phone. Calls to Land lines usually requires a sip to POTS gateway subscription somewhere. This is slightly harder t

    • by Anonymous Coward

      While we are at it, can we make cell phones support WiFi for phone calls?

      The phones already have the hardware to do this. People could make calls from places where cell reception sucks but they had Wifi internet. It would also reduce the burden on cell towers as people eliminate landlines and use their cell phones at home, where they probably already have WiFi routers. It also would eliminate the need for those stupid microcells: you could just use your regular wi-fi router for calls without needing to pay for their box.

      This is already in existence for android at least, use GrooveIP and a google voice account. You can receive, send calls any time you want as long as you're on wifi and you keep wifi alive.

      I do this with an Optimus V, it works very well..

    • by mspohr (589790)

      My Android Nexus One runs Skype which works over WiFi for phone calls... it's done this for years.
      Is this what you had in mind?

      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        No. I want to dial a regular telephone number and have it use WiFi.

    • While we are at it, can we make cell phones support WiFi for phone calls?

      The phones already have the hardware to do this. People could make calls from places where cell reception sucks but they had Wifi internet. It would also reduce the burden on cell towers as people eliminate landlines and use their cell phones at home, where they probably already have WiFi routers. It also would eliminate the need for those stupid microcells: you could just use your regular wi-fi router for calls without needing to pay for their box.

      You want Republic Wireless [republicwireless.com]. We have it, and it works great.

    • Quality of Service? Users are going to complain about dropped calls and won't connect the dots to things like "turning on the microwave makes a hash out of my wireless signal" or "I live in an apartment with 30 networks interfering with each other".

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      You mean like Skype?

    • by PRMan (959735)
      If you have Vonage, you can do this for free with their Extensions app. I'm about to go on vacation in a foreign country, and while I'm there I'll just hop on Wifi and call international numbers in that country for free with their app (it bills against the Vonage World service at home and costs me nothing since the country I'm going to is free on Vonage World).
    • I'm working for the Serval Project, our main focus is offering phone calls, text messaging, file transfer and other communication services over whatever network is available. While a phone call requires a usable realtime path between the end points, we're trying to build other services that use a Delay Tolerant Networking protocol.

      The services we're building will attempt to use any available network to discover other devices running our software and relay data. We've also been experimenting with using 915M

    • by twostar (675002)
      Most T-Mobile android phones have wifi calling built into them. great for calling when outside the US and not paying roaming fee's.
    • While we are at it, can we make cell phones support WiFi for phone calls?

      The phones already have the hardware to do this. People could make calls from places where cell reception sucks but they had Wifi internet. It would also reduce the burden on cell towers as people eliminate landlines and use their cell phones at home, where they probably already have WiFi routers. It also would eliminate the need for those stupid microcells: you could just use your regular wi-fi router for calls without needing to pay for their box.

      T-Mobile USA already does this - They call it WiFi calling and it is present on almost all of their internet enabled phones at no extra charge. It is the best reason to buy a T-Mobile branded smartphone rather than an unlocked one like a Nexus if you are going to use T-Mobile prepaid as it is only baked into their branded roms. They do however charge you for minutes or text at the same rate as your regular plan (they treat WiFi calling the same as connecting over a cell tower) if you have an unlimited pl

  • two things (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285)
    1) on the iPhone the cellular can be turned off so it can be used as a WiFi only device. Skype can be used to make calls.

    2) I thought the whole advantage of an Android phone is that it was not locked down like an iPhone, so could always be used to as a router to accept connections, i.e. tethering. That is what the ads and everyone on /. says when they say that iPhones suck.

    • by pr0nbot (313417)
      Android is less locked-down in certain ways (e.g. you can install apps from anywhere), but it's still ultimately locked down, by carriers in some case, and by Google. E.g. it isn't possible to remove certain apps - like Facebook (on my old t-mobile phone) and the Google apps (on a Nexus 4). You need to jailbreak it (root it) to do the really interesting things. If you care about such things: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/sep/19/android-free-software-stallman [guardian.co.uk]
      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        I can disable the carrier's pre-installed apps so that they no longer appear on my android. They're not uninstalled and erased from flash but you can essentially forget their existence and never get reminded about upgrades.

    • Missing the point (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, Android can tether, but that's not the point of this project. Standard tethering is mostly a spoke-hub [wikipedia.org] type of model, where one user acts as the access point and others use said access point. The SPAN project appears to be about using WiFi to set up a mesh network [wikipedia.org] when other means of communication are unavailable, so that everyone in the mesh can communicate to peers (or, if at least one user has access to the Internet, to anyone anywhere). This would allow for a much larger area of coverage when tradi

    • cellular can be turned off so it can be used as a WiFi only device

      On android, put the phone in flight mode, then turn wifi back on.

  • Will there be a law against this faster than it can be implemented?
    • by icebike (68054)

      One could make the case that there should be Laws FOR this, and that FEMA should be tasked with making sure it works and that apps are available.

      (Not that anyone is likely to trust FEMA to do anything right).

  • You mean that you're creating an internet of wireless devices. It's mostly useless, or at least just a curiosity or specialty tool, until it hits critical mass. Then it becomes a parallel internet, but requiring proximity to the network peers. It will even have a functional equivalence, as everybody in the middle of nowhere will still be fucked, but if you're clustered in a population hub, the connectivity will allow high bandwidth applications.

    • by Max_W (812974)
      In the middle of nowhere there are no towers anyway, they are not profitable to construct there. Still the messages will not be lost in the internet of wireless devices. As almost everywhere one meets people.

      The protocol should use the last know geo-location of a wireless device and route a message to it to the nearest wireless devices in the area (in the encrypted format certainly).

      There are only 3 numbers for the last know location: latitude, longitude and time. The protocol can use the excellent fr
    • by icebike (68054)

      Mesh networks can carry quite a load.

      You are right or course, it needs to be installed and turned on over a significant number of devices. Some think this software should be mandatory [cnet.com].
      Even if only for disasters or power failure, it would be worth while.

      Theoretically, mesh networks, if done properly can manage bandwidth demands based on the number of working broadband connections. If not, text messages get through and voice becomes hopeless, but people adapt. In disasters, all you need is one working cabl

  • by talmage (223926) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @12:49PM (#42873185) Homepage Journal
    I've organized a similar project, the Mobile Emergency Communications Project [github.com]. It builds on NRL OLSR [navy.mil], NRL SMF [navy.mil], and NORM [navy.mil] and comes with some rudimentary graphical applications for testing and for file sharing. The applications are written in C++ and QML [digia.com] using the Qt framework [qt-project.org].

    The project runs on Linux and on Nokia's N900 and N9 phones. I'm looking for help to port it to Symbian, Android, and iOS devices.

  • This concept is very much like HMSS ad-hock mesh networks used in ham radio. Self-discovering, auto-configuration, and self-healing. Except we use old linksys routers, instead of cell phones, and operate under different FCC rules. YMMV
  • From the article: "Each smartphone in the network can operate up to about 100 feet away from its nearest neighbor. VoIP works over up to 5 hops."

    By my maths, that gives phone calls over about 500 feet (152 metres). Point to point communication using cheap PMR446 [wikipedia.org] radios would do a better job if the mobile network went down, with a range of up to a few kilometres in open space and a few hundred metres in the city (though channel collisions might be more of an issue than with VOIP over wifi). These are as che

  • Walkie Phonies!
  • Ask an amateur radio operator how to do it.

    They've been actively helping in disaster situations since the early 1900s, digitally since the 70s.

    So unless someone wants to patent an idea, just ask old HAMs for excellent working designs and units; it's a quick set of technological changes to use WiFi handheld devices.

  • Reminds me of the Serval Batphone [servalproject.org]. In fact, this sounds like a slightly more ambitious version of the exact same premise (Disaster area phone-to-phone [heh, P2P] communication via mesh).

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