Yesterday, I’ve just finished giving a 2 days workshop on OpenBTS, a software based and open source BTS (aka the cellular tower that connects a mobile phone to a cellular network), so that people can make their own cellular network. This was the first time that we as a team from Surya University gave such topic outside of our campus, and even in an island 1,167.93 kilometers away from Jakarta. Nias itself is a remote area, with trouble in cellular network coverage too, as expected. My phone that uses XL acted as camera throughout the days here. So, this topic fits perfectly well here.
The first day of workshop gave the participant a tour of what is OpenBTS and how they can use it out of the box to build a cellular network, attach phones to it and establish phone calls and SMS between them. Some basic monitoring tools are also demonstrated. This gave them a hands on experience of what it feels like operating their own GSM network. Though, some of them asked “What will happen when you guys leave?” Because we brought with us 7 boxes of OpenBTS Dev Kit from Range Network and they have feeling that using the box it’s the only way to accomplish the task.
That question was answered perfectly in day 2, where I taught them how to build and install OpenBTS from the GitHub repo (hey, it’s an open source project) and replicate what they’ve done on the first day. Only this time, they use their own laptop/PC as the OpenBTS but with GSM radio attached from the OpenBTS Dev Kit. They managed to do that and they felt happy and inspired as well, knowing that they can actually build one to enhance the communication in their area. Though, this process is constantly interrupted by electrical blackout (twice!) and slow internet connection.
This has been a wonderful experience. To compare, we’ve run this workshop for free for the past year in our campus and most of the people who attend came from big city such as Jakarta or Bandung and other neighboring cities, where GSM signal or service isn’t really a problem. So, they look at a more hands on experience with OpenBTS, to upgrade their knowledge on OpenBTS since they must’ve heard or read about it elsewhere. While on the other hand, these guys, whose aren’t really deep in Linux (and especially life in Terminal), whose access to communication is limited, see this as another way to gain access to freedom in communication. If the operator find it troublesome to build another BTS here, then, why don’t we build it? This was then further improved by their next step, which was establishing an Open Source community dubbed Nias Go Open Source. Sweet!
Of course, implementing OpenBTS in Indonesia still has its own issues, mostly due to regulation. But, if I’m being optimistic, someday, this will be legally allowed. Until then, I’m more than happy to share my knowledge about this topic. I’m pretty sad to see that there’s a tremendous gap in IT knowledge between Jakarta and remote areas. Here is a chance to rectify what’s wrong, albeit in a very very very small scale. So, why not?