Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 1 of Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship

So today I have commenced a telecommunications fellowship with the Shuttleworth Foundation, which will be undertaken here at Flinders University where with the University's generous support we have based the Serval Project.

This is an amazing support for our work on the Serval Project, as not only does it free up my salary so that we can employ a project manager, but it also provides access to a very helpful operational budget, and a great team of dedicated open-technologists working on a variety of projects.  Check out their list of past and current fellows to get a feel for what they are supporting.

This support builds on that already provided by The Awesome Foundation, Flinders University and NLnet, as well as that of many students, volunteers and my family, which has enabled us to reach this point.

The particular mandate of my work under the fellowship is to:

- Build on existing trials, which include remote, in-motion, underground and
indoor tests by linking with partner organisations to deploy the
technology in an escalating series of situations;Increasing the breadth of applications for the technology, and the usability
of the technology in disaster, by governments, and in remote locations;
andImproving the maximum range between handsets beyond what is
possible using WiFi, but without altering the hardware in existing mobile telephones (the “Focus Area Objectives”). 

What this means is that we will be pursuing a simultaneous software improvement and testing program that will, hopefully, get us to the point of a quality public release within a year.

The greatest challenge comes from the range extension, which we know is possible using the baseband radio in mobile phones. However, it is extremely difficult to get the programming information to enable modification of the firmware loaded into the radio's baseband processor. 

We will be exploring multiple angles to achieve this, ranging from engaging with the IEEE 802.11 standardisation process, to seeking to open channels with cell phone chipset manufacturers, through to, building custom cell phones that contain friendlier baseband or other radio chipsets that we can more easily reprogram, and where legal and appropriate, reverse-engineering the information we require.

The potential gains over using WiFi to build the mesh (perhaps 300m between phones indoors and 10km or more between phones outdoors in open country) are so great that we must engage with this process, regardless of the difficulty.

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