Disaster-zone phone communication software available for free

Published 14 April 2011

Australian researchers developed software which enables mobile phones to communicate during a disaster; it will be freely available to the public by the end of the year thanks to the support of the Dutch NLnet Foundation; the software can be used on compatible mobile phone handsets to create an alternative “network” where conventional mobile phone coverage has been destroyed or does not exist

Software developed by Flinders University’s Dr. Paul Gardner-Stephen which enables mobile phones to communicate during a disaster will be freely available to the public by the end of the year thanks to the support of the Dutch NLnet Foundation.

The Sevral BatPhone software can be used on compatible mobile phone handsets to create an alternative “network” where conventional mobile phone coverage has been destroyed or does not exist.

The university press release notes that instead of relying on mobile phone towers, the Serval system relays calls for one mobile phone to another as either a “closed” network or to connect to a temporary tower.

Dr. Gardner-Stephen, Research Fellow (Rural, Remote and Humanitarian Telecommunications) in Flinders School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics, said NLnet’s contribution of about $40,000 would be a significant boost for his Serval Project team.

“We are delighted to receive the support of the NLnet Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting ventures and people that contribute to an open information society,” Stephen said.

“We currently have seven Flinders and INSA Telecommunications exchange students developing the Serval BatPhone software. They are getting valuable, real-world experience as they work on this integrated and substantial humanitarian software engineering project,” he said.

“NLnet’s support will go towards project management and senior developer resources to more effectively manage the team’s coordinated efforts. It’s a significant step towards our goal of making Serval BatPhone freely available in a first public release later this year.”

Valer Mischenko, NLnet’s director said mobile communication have become an inescapable part of our lives.

“Unfortunately, existing systems relying exclusively on commercial operators’ networks can neither be called reliable enough, such as in disaster situations, nor secure enough, such as in circumstances of changing political situation — and they are not legally sustainable, as they are easily prone to various forms of cyber attack,” Mischenko said.

“One may call the Serval system ‘an operator-less mobile network’, which can take over when operators’ networks fail for one reason or another. We are very glad with such initiatives which help to implement our mission and make networks based communication reliable and trustworthy,” he said.

“NLnet Foundation sponsors tens of bigger and smaller networking technology related projects every year. The results of these projects are all open and can be freely used for further development of the technology.”

About NLnet Foundation

NLnet Foundation is a private charity fund supporting developments of networking technology worldwide, and has over the years actively contributed to Internet standards, open source projects and subsidiary, and enabling activities such as the development of GPLv3.

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