Range Networks' OpenBTS enables helicopter-based GSM network

A technology integrator in Iceland has used Range Networks' open-source OpenBTS software to create a helicopter-based GSM network that can be used to find lost hikers and others in the Icelandic highlands.

The integrator, Rogg, developed a solution called the Norris Positioning System (NPS), which triangulates the location of lost hikers via GSM signals at distances up to 20 miles. Calculations are based on the GSM timing advance value, and results are mapped on Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad tablets.

NPS has been installed into Icelandic Coast Guard Super Puma helicopters, which also have an omnidirectional antenna mounted under the fuselage. The result is a portable GSM network that can be placed in a helicopter.

Because a helicopter can arrive anywhere in Iceland within a half hour, it should take only 30-60 minutes to locate a lost person based on the first location signals, said Baldvin Hannson, Rogg's technical director. Further, those signals should enable searchers to locate a person with at least 60 meter precision, even if they are up to 35 kilometers away.

"This has nothing to do with the GPS system of the mobile phone," Hannson added.  "We are only using the GSM connection. A text is sent to the GSM phone saying we have located them. The person who is lost doesn't have to do anything; it's enough to have the phone on them."

The NPS project began about 18 months ago, with Rogg's development efforts being aided by specialists from  Reykjaivk University. NPS has been used in four large search operations already and has contributed to one rescue.

Iceland's telecoms regulator, PFS, has reserved a channel in the 1800 MHz band for national use of the application.

Range Networks developed OpenBTS as an open source software implementation of the GSM radio access network.

"In search and rescue missions, time is of the essence. When our global headquarters was in my living room, we imagined OpenBTS helping solve these types of problems," said Harvind Samra, company CTO and co-inventor of the OpenBTS Project.

For more:
- see this Range Networks release

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