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Out in the Open: This Super-Cheap Cellphone Network Brings Coverage Almost Anywhere


Range has already brought GSM service–the same type of network that carries voice calls and text messages elsewhere in the world–to Macquarie Island, a small island just outside the Antarctic Circle. This is preferable to walkie talkies or Wi-Fi because it provides wider coverage while using less energy. And although the network has a satellite uplink to connect it with the rest of the world, it doesn't depend on satellites for local communications, which is essential to the safety of field researchers.

GSM networks like the one on the island usually cost about a million dollars to build, says Range Networks CEO Ed Kozel. But Range is able to bring the technology to Antarctica for just a few thousand dollars using an open source platform called OpenBTS, short for Open Base Transceiver Station. All you need to run a GSM network with OpenBTS is radio software and an off-the-shelf Linux server. "The legacy infrastructures are why most operators are so expensive to run, but we took a clean slate approach," Kozel explains.

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