Mobiles: Alternatives

From Gender and Tech Resources

Dany guzman.jpg [1]

Autonomous and Community Mobile Telephony

According to the International Telecommunication Union[2] there are between 2 and 3 billion people in the world who don't have access to a mobile phone network. This is mainly because telecommunications regulatory bodies only grant access to the mobile radio spectrum to large companies, and often restrict access to micro enterprises, for example small service providers to rural areas.

It is widely assumed that the only way to communicate using mobile phones is through transnational telecoms corporations, and that a for-profit business model is the only viable way of setting up and sustaining a mobile phone network. That leaves many geographically remote communities and villages with low population densities, or with subsistence economies, that are never going to attract the large investment required from large companies to set up a mobile phone network. And sometimes these communities do not want services from a corporate provider anyway.

From some of these communities new, creative and collaborative ways of providing telephony services are emerging that offer hope to marginalised rural communities everywhere. Below are a few of these alternative phone projects that are based on peoples' basic right to communicate.



The Rhizomatica organization is located in Oaxaca[3], in the south east of Mexico.

Rhizomatica works by creating bridges between indigenous communities in Mexico and engineers of open telecommunications systems to create mobile telephony infrastructure to strengthen the autonomy of indigenous peoples. In order to understand the origin and success of this autonomous mobile telephony project, it is important to understand its context.

Context and history

Oaxaca is a complex and culturally diverse region; 17 indigenous peoples co-inhabit the territory. Oaxaca is mountainous, the territory is communal, and there are strong local government structures recognized by the Mexican constitution and international treaties. Oaxaca's economy is based on agricultural subsistence.

In the 1970s and 1980s, these peoples began their first communal enterprises for the management of common goods, such as forestry and aquifers, that were the precedent for the current communal telecoms enterprises. This complex context is the fertile ground for telecommunications infrastructure projects that strengthen the autonomy of indigenous peoples.

From the 2006 Social Movement[4], the native peoples of Oaxaca began work to set up their own means of communication, with special emphasis on community radio. Currently the Oaxaca state has the highest concentration of community radio in Mexico. Although there is no official census, social organizations estimate that there are between 60 and 100 community network projects currently operating in Oaxaca.

Driven by the need for communication, the communal authorities of towns in Oaxaca approached big companies countless times to request mobile telephony services. But their requests were always rejected because of the small population and the high set-up costs. Because of this, communal villages worked with Rhizomatica to look for ways to construct mobile phone infrastructure that would strengthen the autonomy of their towns. This was how the Autonomous and Community Cellular Telephone project emerged.


In technical terms, the autonomous mobile telephony infrastructure consists of a[5] transceiver with 5 watts of power that emits and receives 850 Mhz radio waves and an antenna that can cover up to 15 km of the surrounding area. The transceivers emit radio waves that require line of sight, so in mountainous terrain the location of the antenna has to be as high as possible to maximize range. Any type of phone can access these networks; a specific SIM card is not required. In the case of Oaxaca, the phone numbering system is based on the postal code assigned to that area. Administration and billing is set up so it can be easily translated into the original languages of the area.

For more details about the system architecture, the hardware and software used, read the Rhizomatica wiki Screenshot4.png Screenshot2.png

Currently (July 2016) the project involves 17 communities[6], and some of them are interconnected. Each transceiver is owned by the communal governing body of each village. The cost per telephone registered in the network is 40 Mexican pesos per month, equivalent to 2 USD, for unlimited calls and text messages within the interconnected community or region. For out-of-town calls, such as the city of Oaxaca or a city in the United States, calls are made through a "Voice over IP" (VoIP) system[7] offering network users the lowest rates available.

To join the project, a community first needs to have in place a good internet connection. Usually this is set up through local micro-enterprises that use WiFi links to reach rural communities. The cost of a computer, the importation of the equipment, and the installation and training to manage the network is approximately 7,000 USD. Currently Rhizomatica uses NuRAN Wireless [8]equipment among other providers. The hardware costs are expected to decrease in the future with the development of new open source hardware devices.

The main requirements for the installation of an autonomous mobile telephone networks include: - Vote of approval in the community assembly - No existing network from another mobile phone company - An Internet connection

Rhizomatica currently has around 3,000 users of autonomous mobile telephony services in Oaxaca. Using Rhizmoatica as a model, a group of young computer students have developed a similar project on the Nicaraguan Atlantic coast called SayCel[9].

Political achievements

The achievement of Rhizomatica and the native peoples of Oaxaca is not only technical but also political. Last June, 2016, the civil association Telecomunicaciones Indígenas Comunitarias (TIC AC), made up of the 17 Rhizomatica communities, won a 15-year concession to operate telecommunications networks in five states of the Mexican republic: Veracruz, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla and Chiapas. This achievement sets a historic precedent in telecommunications in Mexico and in the world. The International Telecommunication Union now showcases Rhizomatica as an example for other governments in the region.


One of main challenges that Rhizomatica faces is enabling access to data for Internet browsing. Another challenge is the transformation from the customer-company relationship that people are used to with mobile networks, to one in which the network is in their own hands.


To know more about the project, watch the following videos Network of Santa María Yaviche:

Desinformemonos Video


WIRED article English Version:


About the 15 years concession



Free and community WIFI networks



Altermundi “la pata tecnológica de ese otro mundo posible”


Altermundi is a civil association in the province of Córdoba[10] in Argentina[11]. Altermundi's mission is to create Internet infrastructure through the use of Free Software and very low cost hardware. Altermundi sets up decentralized wireless networks, using WiFi routers and [12]firmware to modify the router's operation.ince then]

"A community network is a network built, managed, administrated, by the people who are going to use it. It prioritizes local traffic, maintains peering agreements[13] (Internet free transit) with any network that offers reciprocity. This was the Internet when it started, that was the original spirit, which has been lost. (Since then the) Internet has been closed and the big networks do not give peering to the people; they broke the model of peer to peer[14]. For us, community networks have two aims: giving concrete solutions to people of flesh and blood , and at the same time to "contaminate" the current Internet with the old spirit of the Internet "Nicolás Echániz[15] founding member of Altermundi.

The main advantage of community networks is that they allow access to the Internet in villages where there is no access to commercial phone services. Above all they are very simple to manage by people in the community, without the need for specialized knowledge in electronics or computing, and at an affordable price. In addition, anyone can extend the network, if they respect its design and its principles, because its growth is not based on a for-profit business model.

Through the Altermundi network people have access to a local chat service, to online transmission of local community radio, to VoIP calls, to share files between peers and to games. In Argentina, these networks are located in Delta de Tigre in Buenos Aires and the Valley of Paravachasca in Cordoba.


The hardware[16] consists of a router and an antenna, equipment to adapt the router, and a cable that connects to the antenna in position. Firmware (operating system) is installed in the routers that allows auto-configuration and other programs for personalization and network monitoring.

Altermundi modifies the routers so that when connecting with a directional antenna the WiFi signal can cover a few kilometers. In this way a network of WiFi devices is built that can exchange data between people within a town or region, and can also connect to the Internet and other community networks.

'What is the difference between a Free Network and a Community Network?' Characteristics of a Free Network:

  • Free use: the network can be used by its participants to offer and receive any type of service that does not affect its operation;
  • Neutrality: the network does not inspect or modify data flows within the network beyond what is necessary for its operation;
  • Free interconnection: the network allows freedom and free services, and the free flow of data with other networks that respect the same conditions;
  • Free transit: it provides other free networks access to the networks, which it maintains with voluntary agreements for free interconnection.

The goal of free networks is to return common sense to the Internet structure, allowing the free flow of information, making the most of infrastructure, and lowering costs so that small Internet businesses can be set easily in areas where Internet access is unfeasible. In this sense community networks are an expression of free networks, and they play a fundamental role in the community through the following characteristics:

  • Collective ownership: its infrastructure is owned by the community that deploys it.
  • Social management: the network is managed by the same community.
  • Accessible design: information on how the network and its components work are public and accessible.
  • Open participation: anyone can extend the network, if they respect its design and its principles.

Political Achievements

At the same time as implementing its networks, Altermundi also participated in the debate on the Digital Argentina Law approved in December 2014, securing with other organizations the inclusion in article 94 of the law the "promotion and protection of community networks" .

Furthermore, the work of Altermundi on creating free and community networks, led to a new co-operation team that is developing Free-Mesh [17].


The main challenge of these free networks is to have access to bandwidth at wholesale prices to connect to the rest of the Internet. While in Europe 1 megabyte per second costs around 0.78 USD per month, in Argentina 1 megabyte per second costs 40 USD per month, more than 50 times the price in Europe.

Otros proyectos alternativos



Guifi is a telecommunications network as a common good. It currently has more than 30,000 active nodes within the network.

"Guifi · net is a telecommunications network in which individuals, organizations, companies and all types of entities participate by promoting and investing in a common infrastructure that provides them with access to telecommunications and the Internet {with} quality and at a fair price "[18].

An Open, Free and Neutral Network is defined as:

  • It is open because it is universally offered to the participation of all without any kind of exclusion or discrimination and because it is open at all times about how the network and its components work, allowing anyone to improve it.
  • It is free because everyone can do what they want and enjoy the freedoms as oultined in the reference of the general principles (section I), regardless of their level of participation in the network, and without imposing terms and conditions which unilaterally contradict this agreement.
  • It is neutral because the network is independent of the contents, it does not condition them and, thus, they can circulate freely; Users can access and produce content regardless of financial possibilities or social conditions. When content is added to the network, it is done to improve its appearance, better manage the network or simply to incorporate content, but in no case with the aim of replacing or blocking other content.

The Procommon of the RAAN (Open, Free and Neutral Network) is based on the following principles:

  • You are free to use the network for any purpose as long as you do not damage the operation of the network itself, the freedom of other users, and respect the conditions of the contents and services that circulate freely.
  • You are free to know how the network, its components and its operation works, and you can also spread your spirit and operation freely.
  • You are free to incorporate services and contents to the network with the conditions that you want.
  • You are free to join the network and help to extend these freedoms and conditions.

Map of nodes:


Get involved! The node is yours but the network is of all the people that connect:

Routers and firmwares you can use to contribute to the network

Joining in three simple steps[19]

  • Add a node
  • Add a new router
  • Add a bridge

Serval Project


This project comes from a group of people in Australia who develop open source technology and free software to create direct connections between mobile phones, through a mobile phone's WiFI interface.

To use Serval it is necessary to access a phone as root user [20] to install Serval free software that allows the WiFi antenna to be used for an Ad-hoc type mesh network [21].

To use Serval you do not need an external WiFi infrastructure other than your mobile phone; you simply need to connect via WiFi to nearby mobile phones to exchange data through calls, messages, photos, etc. This data travels directly from one telephone to another, so the services of a mobile phone company are not required. Serval allows you to make voice calls. Text messages and other data are communicated through storage and retransmission, a system known as rhizome.

Wiki of the Serval project:

Commotion Wireless

Comotion logocom.jpeg

A project developed by the Open Technology Institute [22] which consists of creating mesh networks [23] [24]. This project has used Mobile ad-hoc networks [25], which are networks of mobile nodes connected via wireless signal.


  1. Fotográfo: Daniel Guzman. Isla Negra, Chile.
  23. https: //wiki/Red_en_malla