Let's suppose I am in the middle of the desert or some kind of jungle, and I have no 2G/GSM Signal. I would like to know if there is any civilian technology (that is or maybe isn't available to the general public) that would allow to have signal in this particular situation? Like some kind of portative cell tower?

  • You would need to run the backhaul cable and power lines with you to power and connect the tower so that it functions.
    – Ron Maupin
    Sep 1 '16 at 14:13
  • @RonMaupin : not sure I understand your point when there are already 2 answers that show it's possible without cables?
    – hertitu
    Sep 2 '16 at 7:56
  • @hertitu, cell towers require backhaul connections. A tower not connected to the phone network is pretty useless. Cell towers also require a lot of power.
    – Ron Maupin
    Sep 2 '16 at 12:22
  • @RonMaupin: sorry but you still don't explain why you would need cables to do so. The Burning Man experiment (literally in the desert) that I refer to in my answer proved that satellite can be used as uplink and their setup was entirely powered by solar/wind. And BTW whether or not a tower without connection is useful is debatable, at Burning Man a significant amount of calls were intra-site so even without uplink it would still have been useful.
    – hertitu
    Sep 2 '16 at 12:41
  • @hertitu, unless you own your own telephone network, as Commnet (the company at Burning Man) does, you need to connect to an existing telephone network. Intra-site calls would require a telephone exchange, usually located in the telephone network, or you would need to provide one of those, too. Trying to power by solar or wind in the jungle is very problematic, and it is very easy in the desert.
    – Ron Maupin
    Sep 2 '16 at 12:47

What you might be able to use is a kind of portable femtocell but as wikipedia explains this requires an internet connection so this would probably not help in your desert or jungle scenario (it's more targeted at e.g. basement offices). Theoretically I suppose you could hook it up to a satellite based internet connection, but you would also need to power both the femtocell and the satellite setup so you'd need big batteries or a generator, making it less portable. If this would work at all, as I can imagine that the lag on the satellite link might cause issues. And if you're going to use satellite technology anyway then why not simply use a satellite phone in the first place...

BTW this is purely theoretical, I do not have practical experience in this field so am curious to see any comment or other answers.

Edit: slightly off-topic as it's slightly larger in scope but perhaps still an interesting read is this article about cellular service at Burning Man (an event in the Nevada desert) and the technical details.


Yes, there are mobile/portable cell towers (base stations).

They're are frequently used by carriers during planned events like concerts where there's normally just a huge cell since no-one's usually at that venue (like old airstrips). These are called "femto cells" as mentioned.

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There are two sides to this technical and legal.

On the technical side the main question is how portable does it need to be? If a system mounted in the back of a SUV or pickup is acceptable then it's certainly doable. Man-portable may be tricker.

You would need a mobile base station and something to power it. If you want to talk to the outside world you would need some kind of uplink (sattelite or possiblly short range microwave). If you want to receive incoming calls on your regular phone number then you would need a roaming agreement with your regular phone provider.

The hardware to run a base station is available off the shelf. See for example http://www.rangenetworks.com/products/ . The software is available as open source.

Then there is the legal side. Mobile phones operate on specific channels within specific bands. To operate legally is likely to require specific authorisation from your country's radio regulator and/or an existing cellular operator.

There is some overlap between the 900 MHz US ham band and the cellular bands used in europe but I don't know if this overlap is sufficient to allow running a functional network. http://n9xlc.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/ham-radio-cellphone-network.html

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