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Local cellular network services in remote areas

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Chris Bowers.

Cellular networks have become a necessity for the socio-economic growth of the nations. In countries from the developing world, this necessity is even more pronounced as cellular technology is often the first telecommunications technology introduced in a community. While the need and benefits of cellular networks are well recognized, large discrepancies exists in affordability and accessibility across regions: for instance, 48% of the rural population in sub-Saharan Africa is not connected. At the same time the number of mobile cellular subscriptions in the developing world reached 125% in 2013. The reason for this discrepancy, as indicated by the World Bank, is that mobile network operators find it commercially infeasible to operate in rural areas. Our work is informed by these observations. Accounting for the high cost of cellular communications, we design a system architecture that uses open-source software, software-defined radio and generic IP backbone to provide low-cost cellular access. Due to the locality of cellular communications that we have seen both in our mobile use analysis as well as in the analysis of others, we design our system to provide local calls and text messages as well as outbound services, where outbound connection is available. Further, we enhance the system with functionality to support SMS based applications.

In this talk I will present some results for mobile cellular network use that motivate our design. I will then outline our low-cost cellular network architecture. I will talk about our field-work in Macha, Zambia during which we deployed and field-tested an instance of our system. I will conclude by outlining our vision for feasibility of such low-cost alternatives in rural communities.


Mariya Zheleva is a fifth year PhD student in the Department of Computer Science at University of California Santa Barbara, working with Prof. Elizabeth Belding. Mariya’s research is on information and communication technology for development and she is currently focusing on the design and implementation of low-cost cellular and broadband networks for challenged environments. Her work was recently published in the ACM MobiSys conference and featured in the New Scientist magazine.

This talk is part of the Human Computer Interaction seminars series.

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