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The Big Hangup At Burning Man Is Cell Phones 167

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "L. J. Williamson writes in the LA Times that with no running water, no plumbing, and no electrical outlets Burning Man isn't the kind of place to expect full bars on your smartphone and for many of the participants that's a big part of its charm. 'If you want to partake in the true Burning Man experience, you should leave your phone at home,' says Mark Hansen. In past years, the closest cellular towers, designed to serve the nearby towns of Empire (population 206) and Gerlach (population 217), would quickly get overwhelmed each August when Black Rock City (population 50,000 or so) rose from the featureless playa. Although Burning Man attracts a sizable Silicon Valley contingent including tech giants like Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin — the feeling of being 'unplugged' has become an integral part of the Burning Man experience. But another part of the event is an intrepid, DIY ethos, and in that spirit, David Burgess, co-creator of OpenBTS, an open-source cellular network software, brought a homemade in 2008, an 'almost comical' setup that created a working cellular network that routed a few hundred calls over a 48-hour period. In each subsequent year, Burgess has improved the system's reach and expects to have about three-quarters of this year's event covered. Burning Man proved an ideal test bed for development of Burgess' system, which he has since made available for use in other areas without cellular networks. 'People who have a lot of experience in international aid say Burning Man is a very good simulation of a well-organized refugee camp,' says Burgess. 'Because there's no infrastructure, it forces us to contend with a lot of problems that our rural customers have to contend with in very remote places.'"
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The Big Hangup At Burning Man Is Cell Phones

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 26, 2013 @02:55PM (#44679043)

    Burning Man stands for absolutely nothing other than privileged, usually white people who want to go waste a lot of time while being very conscious of the fact that this supposedly makes them cool. It's silly to try to label a subsect of Burners as posers when posing is one of the main reasons for going to Burning Man. I write this as someone who lived in San Francisco for several years, and had burners as roommates and dates. If people at Burning Man used their talents to actually do something constructive, I would be a huge supporter of it -- but I would guess most people would stop going.

  • Cell Phones (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mullen ( 14656 ) on Monday August 26, 2013 @02:59PM (#44679069)

    This article is so horribly written that it makes my head hurt.

    First off, the Tech Titans that go to Burning Man fly in private jets and stay in "Pay to Play" camps. Not to be a Burning Man snob, they are not getting the Burning Man experience. Also, most of them stay a day or so and then leave.

    The OpenBTS network that is setup is a closed private Cell Phone network (This is covered in the FAQ). You have to have a GSM phone, type in special codes to get it to work and there are a number of restrictions to using the network. As the article stated, calling out is limited and calling in very limited. It's great for sending TXT messages, but the coverage is spotty at best.

    OpenBTS only supports GSM, not CDMA (Verizon and Sprint), so that means not everyone can use it. Verizon kinda works out there, but TXT is the only thing flowing in or out (With long delays) since there are still too many people out there for the local cell phone infrastructure.

    There is wireless at Burning Man, but really only at Center Camp and after about 8:00a, it gets crushed with users. Trust me, no one is checking Facebook or Instagram at Burning Man.

    This whole, "OMG, CELL PHONES AT BURNING MAN IS GOING TO RUIN BURNING MAN" is completely over blown. Just about everyone turns off their phones at the gates and leaves them off all week. Burning Man was and still is a completely different world for one week.

  • by Skynyrd ( 25155 ) on Monday August 26, 2013 @03:19PM (#44679235) Homepage

    And so as it becomes yuppified and "me too!" and too popular, there will be a sub-sub-culture for the folks that really know what is going on and why they should be there.

    Many of us who have been going for a long time have stepped away as the event changed. It isn't the same as it was, so we've decided to walk away from the event.
    I'm not saying it isn't fun, or I'm too cool for it, but it no longer appeals to me.

    My Facebook feed has slowed by 50%, so I still seem to have a bunch of friends who are going - but I'm getting photos and updates from the desert. That part I don't understand; I loved being off the grid for a week or three.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 26, 2013 @05:41PM (#44680647)

    What would be really interesting is a cell phone network at Burning Man that allowed you to make calls ONLY within BRC. People could come and get a SIM card and number and put it into an unlocked phone (ideally, a burner phone ;-). This would facilitate communication between both people you come to the event with and people you meet there. Plus, you could designate special numbers that do interesting call 777-7777 to connect to a random number call 111-1111 to be connected with the next person to call 222-2222 (and vice versa...think a more high-tech version of the the telephone booth they had the year I went where one was labeled "talk to God" and the other, "play God")

    The important part isn't the lack of cell phones, it's the lack of connection with the outside world during the event. Any technology that helps build connections inside the event is squarely in the spirit of the event and should be encouraged.

  • I take it you haven't RTFA. Try it sometime. Especially the OpenBTS stuff where the cell phone network is being run by participants at the Burning Man festival.

    Most of what you think would be interesting or cool is in fact being done there. The guys running the cell phone network are just a bunch of geeks who think cell phone technology should be something more than what big corporations are cramming down your throat, and are doing some really interesting things with it.

    When you connect to the OpenBTS network, you are assigned a "new number" that is intended to be used only internally. Phone calls are limited to 5 minutes in length, and incoming phone calls only get through for people who you've personally placed an outgoing phone call (presumably because it is likely a child/parent/sibling or significant other that you are worried about and want to have then call you back).

    They do provide network (aka internet) access, but that is very limited as well.

    I don't know about the other fun stuff, but the developers of this network said they included several "Easter eggs" in the system as well just for fun. The software they are using is open sourced and has been used in places other than the Burning Man as well. That is the part I'm even more impressed with, as they are using their experiences at Burning Man to not only better themselves, but to help the rest of the world as well and giving back the rest of the year too.

The next person to mention spaghetti stacks to me is going to have his head knocked off. -- Bill Conrad