07 March 2010


"FAKALOFA LAHI ATU! Please respond with your provisioning code..."

There is now an OpenBTS pilot site in Niue, installed with the cooperation of Telecom Niue under a license from the government. The system is still in a closed evaluation, but when the evaluation phase ends the Niue system will probably be the first OpenBTS installation to provide common-carrier service to the general public. This is a very big step for the project and will bring a much-missed service to the residents, many of whom already own GSM handsets when they travel in New Zealand. It will be a learning process for everyone involved.

Installation took two weeks and is still incomplete, mostly due to customs delays in New Zealand and incomplete documentation on the installation site. We also had serious problems coordinating spectrum with a large public wifi system who's operators seem to think that they can use whatever spectrum they want without consulting the regulators. I would have blogged about all of this on the spot, but the public internet service was unusable most of the time we were there. (Naturally, they blamed us. More on that later. UPDATED BONUS: They are STILL BLAMING US.) If you need a blog fix right away though, Tim Panton managed to squeeze a posting out.

The short status summary is this: Telecom Niue's technicians put a 13 dBi sector antenna about 53 meters up on a platform. From there, we should be able to get reasonably good coverage over Alofi, 3-5 km away, once the wifi people quit jamming our uplink with their unlicensed 900 MHz gear. We managed to make a few international calls from cellphones in Alofi and we sent a lot of text messages among ourselves around the island. We look forward to working with Telecom Niue over the next few weeks to get the system better configured and tied-in to their existing wireline switch. The details will follow over the next few days.

I also want to say that most of the people we encountered in Niue were remarkably nice to us and that the natural beauty of the island's coastline is stunning ... even for someone who lives in California.

(Kone Magatogia setting the antenna, 53 meters AGL. Thanks to Toki Talagi for this photo.)


  1. I know this question isn't related to the specific post, but I've been meaning to ask for a while. It's my impression that there is at least one of the 4 main GSM frequencies is not used in the US. Is it possible to use this band for hobby testing? I can't imagine that it is, but I'm curious what legalities prevent it from being used.

  2. Those frequencies are used for other applications in the US. You might be able to get an STA, depending on where you are, but it will be more complicated than an STA for a straight 850 or 1900 license.

  3. Nice work guys, kudos to David, Tim and anyone else involved. Hoping to hear some details from Tim soon on VUC and maybe you can join us again for that, David?

  4. This is so exciting, I wish I could be part of it!
    Will this be the start of a revolution? Time will tell....
    Thank you for all those involved, showing it can be done!
    Moshe Maeir
    The Flat Planet Phone Company

  5. Moshe - Thanks. Hopefully, this can be a step toward flattening cellular networks as well.

    Zeeek - Getting on VUC is usually pretty difficult in my schedule, but I'll try to be there this week.

  6. Thank you on behalf of all Niuean people. Your team are doing a fantastic job and the Open BTS Chronicles is a great way keeping us up to date. Keep up the transparency, am enjoying what I'm reading so far.

  7. Thanks. That's very nice of you.

    I don't know how many Niueans know it, but all of the technical information on the basestation equipment is transparent, too. Take a look at http://openbts.sourceforge.net/ and follow the link to the "wiki".

  8. You guys have done a fantastic job despite some challenges along the way and you certainly need to be congratuled for. Many Niueans will truly appreciate the effort, time and committment you have put into this project.I look forward to further updates from your BTS Chronicles. Fakaue lahi, kia monuina.

  9. I had to laugh reading the episodes on the escapade to Niue for OpenBTS. It seems that history always repeats itself when attempting to install telecom systems in the islands or out in the "bush". Last year I brought up a VSAT for the US government on Midway Atoll and had to be creative to get everything working. We finished the installation and testing one hour before the weekly plane arrived. Congratulations for bringing GSM to Niue and demonstrating the old American "can do" attitude to overcome the RF interference and lack of a good hardware store on island!

  10. David & Team,

    Fantastic job done and no doubt this is start of new revolution.I had been going thru the content and posts on open bts from quite some time (reasonably long time)and it is really exciting.

    Your experiment in niue has proved as first public openbts launch,i personaly feel openbts got potential business a head.


  11. Brian Campbell20 May, 2010 22:27

    Was there a reason why you did not use the 1800 mhz frequency band? I know it does not go as far, but you would have a higher quantity of compatible GSM phones that would work. North American triband phones, for example. The chances other gear using that band would have been lower also.

  12. We chose the 900 band because the components are more readily available, the range is greater, the clock requirements are easier to meet and there was no reason to expect there to be any ISM-900 equipment installed in Niue, since Niue is not in ITU region 2 and (I repeat) that equipment is generally illegal in the rest of the world.

    Phone compatibility is no problem, either. Nearly every handset sold outside the US supports GSM900. It is the standard rural cellular band over most of the globe. The fact that US phones don't support it, or that Americans assume that ISM-900 is an acceptable deployment in most places reflects our insulated view of the rest of the world.

    If we had run a DCS1800 system, the range would be about the same as our current GSM900 system, crippled as it is by IUSN

  13. Well done David, wish I could have been part of it. Stephen

  14. what about handover?
    and if it has been done,tell me how ?