Adding Cell Network to a Helicopter can help you find People

Mobile devices are the electronic device people carry more than anything else, but when you have no cel coverage your device is only as good as the stuff you have downloaded that doesn’t require a data connection.

Someone asked the question what if you could be a Cell Network in a helicopter?  You can’t provide cell coverage, but you can find people who are lost.  Range Networks posts on this idea in Iceland.

That is what you get with coast guard helicopters flying about with an OpenBTS-based solution on board, scouring the Icelandic highlands for (extremely) lost souls during large-scale search & rescue missions.

Rögg of Reykjavik, led by technical director Baldvin Hansson, has created a complete system using OpenBTS and Range's SDR1 for a helicopter-mounted network which can pick up cell phone signals up to 35 km away, map them on iPad tablets, and lead the crew to swoop in and rescue someone while the up to 500-person search party is still pulling on its boots. They call it Norris for short, the Norris Positioning System officially. (But nothing to do with GPS - they use the timing advance value from the GSM connection to map the location.)

It's not just faster, it's better -- they used to fly around and...look! Any rain, snow or fog usually meant nothing to see, so they would ground the Super Puma helicopter and send everybody slogging. Now they have a tool which makes a fast rescue under even inclement conditions possible.

Wired posts on how an OpenBTS cel network can be a small fraction of a proprietary solution.

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.