Ditch the Carriers, Make Your Own Cell Network – Geek.com


There are plenty of legitimate reasons to want take control of your communication. I’m of the opinion that everyone should be using Signal and VPNs at the very least, and the more layers of security – and the more you take it seriously – the better. And, given the way things are going and how powerless we are in the face of the multinational corporations that control our data, it might not be a bad idea to take it a step further.

According to Motherboard, two students – Brendan Harlow and Matthew May of Champlain College in Vermont – recently decided to build their own mini cell network for a class project. The pair merely wanted to test the idea, since it’s not something that people tend to do all that often, it turns out.

“It was a lot of trial and error because the technology we were using didn’t have a lot of documentation available to us,” Harlow told Motherboard. “We had a lot of trouble with programming the SIM cards at first. There’s a lot of outdated protocols used with cards. Acquiring programmable SIM cards was a challenge.”

Indeed, SIM cards generally aren’t made for general use, and as anyone who has worked in IT or medicine will tell you, huge swaths of modern society run on shockingly old standards. Our eye for tech tends to update things as-needed, and since upgrading a huge business that proves services millions rely on isn’t cheap, there isn’t much incentive to keep up with the absolute latest tech.

That’s somewhat ironic, too, as modernity has given us all far greater access to resources even the most advanced labs didn’t have twenty years ago. So it’s an issue of having the actual gear, but not the code to make everything nice and smooth.

May and Harlow told motherboard that getting the hardware was easiest. They loaded up a simple LCD screen, a Raspberry PI, a couple of SIM cards, a SIM card writer, and a radio broadcaster called bladeRF. They used the Pi, a mini Linux-based, super-versatile PC, to re-write the SIMs, assign new phone numbers, and control the blade.

After quite a bit of effort, though, the system worked. You could even use data services, provided that you were in a meager 60ft radius of the base antenna. Still, it’s an exceptional bit of tech, and one that could have applications in disaster recover, emergency response, or, of course, security.

Unfortunately, though, the gear needed does cost a fair bit. While the Raspberry Pi runs a mere $35, the bladeRF runs $420, without some of the extra gear and antennae you’ll need for it. That’s still not bad, given the results, but if you want anything comparable to what T-Mobile or Verizon offer, you’ll need to invest quite a bit to make it viable. The real advantage would be having a mobile base station that is, relatively speaking, cheap, and deployable to places without critical infrastructure. Or, again, if you’re paranoid. Like me.

I’m saying I already bought all the parts, so I should have my own network sometime next week. If you want to use it, it’ll be $120/month, and I’ll charge insane roaming fees. And I’ll lock your phone, so you can’t pick someone else and have to buy/subscribe to my service. I’ll be a billionaire in no time. Just watch.

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