Hey AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile -- your days may be numbered

Hey AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile -- your days may be numbered
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As mobile users overwhelm shared cellular data networks, scrappy independent providers armed with low-cost equipment could bring the solution

Did you know you can now buy relatively inexpensive devices that enable you to create your own 4G LTE network?

While these devices are low power, if deployed in sufficient quantity, they could serve dense populations in cities and certain rural corridors. We’re probably not long from being able to create small mesh networks connected to fiber optic networks that can carry our calls and tweets and incessant Facebook likes to the larger world.

Best of all, many of these devices have open designs that support customization and could foster new applications that extend beyond our current imaginings.

One such interesting option is the LimeSDR, a programmable RF device. Think of it as a $300 Raspberry Pi with an RF transceiver attached. Assuming we can get around locked phones, could a small town connect these items and create a corridor of them to take a bite out of Ma Bell and friends?

Technical obstacles persist, not to mention regulatory barriers. But at least some of them could be overcome with such solutions as Artemis Networks’ pCell technology, which uses interference patterns from multiple 4G transceivers to create new bandwidth out of thin air. As cellular networks in larger cities become overwhelmed, innovative new techniques like this will be required.

Who knows? It's possible that communities of hackers armed with devices like the LimeSDR and such techniques as that offered by pCell could start curing the current congestive heart failure that plagues modern cellular networks.

Meanwhile, others have focused on using Wi-Fi networks to set up more traditional but lower-cost carriers such as Ting. The idea is to empower Wi-Fi to offload the bulk of your data needs. Unfortunately, this won’t help if you want to stream music in your car -- or if you use your cellphone to tether your laptop when the hotel Wi-Fi is too crappy. In fact, at higher gigabit rates, Ting is more expensive than Verizon. Google’s Project Fi is similar in general concept, with the same drawbacks.

Are we ready to ditch Ma Bell yet? Probably not, but the technologies and tools are emerging that should allow the more industrious among us to start tackling the problem. Within a few years, at least in dense areas, the dominance of big carrier cell towers could face a real challenge.

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