25 September 2010

The Man Burns in 341 Days

We returned from Burning Man over two weeks ago and are still unpacking and recovering. The skin on my hands still feels like old leather, the rebar cuts and blisters on my legs and feet are still healing and Jessica is still sorting through the boxes of dusty camping gear and surplus food in the garage. It was a weird burn; some of our friends and campmates had powerful experiences, good, bad, transformative and moving. Even a weird time in Black Rock City leaves you looking forward to next year, and reminds you that the event is more than just a big party. But that's not what brought you to this blog, so here are the technical highlights:

  • We ran a 2-sector, 5-TRX system (3/2 configuration) from a 25 m tower. We ignored RACH bursts with TA>10, limiting our range to 5 km, deliberately excluding nearby towns from the test. Our coverage footprint was roughly 80 sq-km, solid over most of Black Rock City, with the exception of some of the outer streets past 3:00 & I. We could make very good-sounding calls from the airport, Center Camp, the gates and from 9:00 & the trash fence.
  • Our second-generation radio worked like a champ.
  • Speech calls were limited to three minutes.
  • We powered the BTS units from a PV solar array. We had a generator, too, but that was mostly for power tools and the blender.
  • We encountered roughly 40,000 unique IMSIs. Really. We were shocked, too.
  • We had challenges, even for Burning Man. Our neighbors advised us that Mercury was in a retrograde phase, putting a kind of curse on all communications systems, but we and Papa Legba prevailed.
  • It was Tuesday before we had a stable backhaul.
  • Commnet Wireless unexpectedly came online on Thursday afternoon. Even more unexpectedly, they did so in the license block for which we had previously been cleared by Verizon. So we lost half a day double checking our license and re-coordinating spectrum with the Commnet NOC.
  • We had congestion on Friday and Saturday. We were running nearly twice the capacity as in 2009, but there seemed to be at least twice as many phones in the environment, maybe more.
  • We had about 4,000 autoprovisioned users, connected about 7,000 phone calls and processed about 50,000 text messages.

Heros of the Burn for 2010:

  • Arturo Mayorga Cerda, for setting up the tower with nothing but hand tools.
  • Jessica Burgess, for climbing the tower on the last day to connect the crane.
  • Mark Petersen, for staying late to help pack up the camp, even though he was ill and feeling badly and probably should have been in bed resting.

And general thanks for 2010:

  • DPW for driving and removing our anchors and for sending the boom truck to take down the tower.
  • John Gilmore for supporting smqueue and loaning us a switch, Christmas lights and lots of other goodies. And for bringing some interesting people to the camp.
  • Donald Kirker for on-site e-mail and SMS hacking.
  • Mark Petersen again for Asterisk support and camp photography.
  • Glenn Edens for staying home, manning the office and dealing with the thousands of e-mails we have been receiving as a result of recent press coverage.
  • Lisa Hyde for the great 3-minute warning message and our BMIR PSA, which I would like to find a copy of. (If anyone has a copy, that would be great.)
  • Jessica Burgess again for rounding up the groceries, organizing the bar and generally keeping the camp organized while we played with computers and radios.
  • Tim Bowden for loaning us the solar panels.
  • Ralf Muehlen for IP support and general moral support.
  • All of the well-wishers who stopped by the camp.

I'll add some photos later, but Donald posted a good set on the Flickr that will do nicely for now. We are already looking forward to next year.


  1. A review of burning man would be nice, for those of us who have never been.

  2. Jim -

    Describing Burning Man is difficult. My standard short summary is to say it is like a week-long carnival where there is no distinction made between the performers and audience, but that really glosses over a lot. The sense of community there is wonderful, also.

    -- David

  3. David,

    Will Kestrel be offering the G2 radio that you guys had used during burningman? If so, when can we expect some details? =)


  4. Thanks to openbts, I "know" a lot about BM, just not this year vs last year.

  5. Amazing, 40000 IMSIs! Congratulations all around, amazing work. I second Darby's question about the G2 :)


  6. I see you have grown since last year. Camp and the tower look amazing and nice to hear the project went so well. Too bad I couldn't come to the burn this year and meet you guys again, but maybe some other year I'll able to...

  7. Quick question. What VoIP provider did you guys use for your backhaul?

  8. Jim -

    We used Link2VoIP, www.link2voip.com.

    -- David

  9. I need help in usrp
    i have usrp and i make all configurations but i cant make call

    if any one know that this is my email

  10. Mohamed -
    The best place to find advice is openbts-discuss@lists.sourceforge.net
    -- David

  11. Came here looking for the 2011 summary, finally saw the 2010 movies - I have to say I'm missing the fun a lot after doing that :) I guess this year is almost over, so good luck wouldn't help, but I hope everything went well, even great!


  12. Please i want to know how to take this system to my country Nigeria and the rest of west african region. Please i ned to know and the estimate cost of buiding one so that i can seek funding for it.

    Marshall Anako

  13. Madako - Cost varies a lot depending on installation type and service range. Contact sales (at) rangenetworks.com for information on commercial systems. Or see http://wush.net/trac/rangepublic for information on the public release. -- David