Mobile telephony CNs in the global South

Hi, very interesting and relevant point (also happy to take it to another thread if that is more appropriate). I have also had the experience of being personally very aligned to these principles, but find it difficult to bring them into the local context in which we operate as a CN. I relate to your sentence “in our experience the local cultures find them [the principles] alien.” It is not so much that people will reject them, but that they bring other priority values (eg, the dominance of elders). In contrast these kinds of principles are seen as “an outsider” set of rules that they will conform with because I propose them, and because my position has intrinsic power (skills, resources, language etc.). So instead of creating participation (my intention), I end up enforcing external rules (not my intention). I find it very important as a CN practitioner to keep exploring and navigating these power relations, so thanks for bringing this up.

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Agreed with the principles. Thanks

Thanks everyone for the lively conversation about the principles, it is through experiencing and talking about them that we got to them.

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Pasting here some links from the webinar chat:

@vassilis:

A list of CBRS capable devices: CBRS capable devices in the market | Celona Help Center

Regulation issues (and achievements!):
@kathleen:

Article from Mexico: Indigenous-led telecommunications organization wins historic legal battle in Mexico · Global Voices

Article from Colombia: Indígenas y excombatientes se unen para llevar internet al Cauca | EL ESPECTADOR

Info:

Photo report of RED Inc: RedINC: oportunidades, conectividad y la esperanza de un territorio rural de Colombia - Colnodo

info on the UW community work: Allen School News » UW researchers work to decrease the digital divide in the Puget Sound region

What has been your role in setting up the mobile telephony in your community network?

How has sustainability of the network been ensured?

Are you worried of changing politics → policies that would deprive you of spaces you’ve already managed to open?

@infrared : Did you have any issues with antenna radiation considerations from local inhabitants?

@infrared does General Access to CBRS spectrum in Seattle provide you with enough spectrum to offer broadband services?

Were there any discoveries or unanticipated responses ?

How high are the fees that people pay and how do they compare to local commercial providers (in nearest localities that do have coverage)?

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@Sarbani_Banerjee_Bel:

What has been your role in setting up the mobile telephony in your community network?

How has sustainability of the network been ensured?

What has been your role in setting up the mobile telephony in your community network? How has sustainability of the network been ensured?

Penelope: My role in TIC, I am the coordinator for the operations so I set the logistics to visit the communities. The community owns the network and we support of getting the eqipment
building the capacity to manage the equipment, and continued support for the technical, social, legal issues that arise.
Every community became an opertaor, and sustainability comes when the number of users are big enough that every user pays a monthly fee, divided into 3 areas:
1) half of the fee remains int he community for things like electricity, the internet services (in and out-going calls), and sometimes the person who helps wiht administration of hte system
2) goes to operational team, that I lead to make the support possible
3) small common fund, insurance, in case there is an emergency… for repair and service the network.
We are not completely sustainable because the quantitiy of users is not yet there, but we are working towards that.

Esther: Each community is an operator. How is different from a commercial telco?
PEnelope: the concession status is a social indigenous operator. It is for every community with their mobile system.

Esther:

what are the legal requirements around that.

Penelope: we can only operate in areas where there are no commercial options. And we have to comply with the paperwork, like being consistently operating.
To report every month or semester how many networks we have. Because every community is part of TIC. So have to keep reporting to government, how many frequency and assignements.

does that status maintain if other commercial operators come in?

P: we are still working, but we do see commercial operators are now coming and we are trying to cope with this new challenge.
We have this other base social structure and dynamics and in cases where the telephony is seen as a community owned, they will lose some of the advantages of having their won telephone system. We are bringing consciousness of the people, about the options and to control their own expenses and the benefits.

What has been your role and sustainability been ensured?

L: when we began with the ‘dream’ in Colombia, we were working with Julian, tring to understand the technology and how to explore this opportunity and talking to the communities and the necessities in the communities.
wiht Rhizomatica team, we worked on some technical aspects, like some basics about the tech.
When more people came to work with us, then I led the team and speaking to the gov’t abou the project and explain what we are doing. My role changes depending on the necessities.
We learn alot of things when we were working with the communities.

About sustainability, we worked with the community on a financial model, it was so hard when we began because not everyone was convinced about the project.
It took some time to get the network to work, and get them to belive in what we were doing.
they were willing to pay

Then we issues with electricity and it didn’t work well, and then some went back to their region. It is a process to combine organisation and technical issues together.
Much of the work that the community did was on a voluntary basis, so the operations was not expensive because the community brought their time, energy, work, food,
and many collaboratie to get the network working, but we are also trying to work on a better model to sustain it.

Esther: Roles: Like LIlian, I take on any role that is needed.
First was to form a non-profit. In order to work with the city, and ably for grants, we formed a non-profit.
We got initial funding - federal covid relief. At the county level, we were going to focus on low-income and marginalised groups, majority unemployed, older persons
My role from the non-profit, we applied for the start up grants to buy more equipment. Our lab can set it up, we reach out to partner organisations, and tell them
we have the equipment, and capacity. So we have 2 partners, API Chaya. The group reduced violence in the local areas. They also are trying to improve internet connectivity
Black Briliance - a coalition of Black organisations across teh county. they organise with people of colour communities and they have connections wtih the city. We ran training virtually
they helped with recruitment of trainees. So I taught the training.
How do we set up an MOU? We have to come up with a structure of how fees will be used. We are discussing this in the community meetings
We have lots of volunteers. We do not have deployed networks, but we are discussing those quesitons.

from @infrared: currently the CBRS spectrum is not used. Usually you have to purchase access to the spectrum authorisation database service per month, per base station. We got an experimental license to use the service. When you consult the database, most of the CBRS spectrum is unused.
Right now, it is okay for us, but in future, some telcos have bought Priority Access Licenses, in general, the telcos can take away this spectrum. This may take 5 years if they adopt it.
But once they are established, that they support important services, it might be an argument to retrain it.
The value is really in community organising, the people power and services for themselves. hopefully that will be a basis to ask the government for considerations

How do you sustain the leadership transition among the group? In other words: if the current “leaders” of the group were to follow some different route, how would the initiative continue to evolve?

Penelope: in Mexico a particular context, another commercial operator called the “shared network” (red compartida) it was to be suppes a neighbor…but now they are reaching out to communities and we are now thinking of becoming an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) to be able to reply with the same scheme and get the same benefits. Together with Redes and Tosepan we are going to promote this new scheme of community networks with a big company infrastructure but the benefits of a social organisation. There are many challenges. Tosepan, the larges cooperative in Mexica has been working with this scheme, but the challenge is to become an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) whcih requieres not only money but a clear orgaisation, social and legal questions.

Esther: Lilian, any hints on changing policy questions?

Lilian: we have always to look for alternative because legislation not prepared for social innovation, it is a challenge not only to participate in the open discussion because sometimes you aprticipate but they do not care…sometimes more about how polititians work, understand…

Esther: there to be so much concern about the radiation. this is the curse of knowledge. since i know that the eequipment is low power and safe, and how much distance i have to be from it. so i didn’t anticipate the concerns people would have.
Also, I didin’t expect so much concern about lyiability: antennas are small, but when people are asked to put an antenna to be put in their roof, people ask for insurance, they want a contractor to be hired to do that… regulations about buildings that have to follow in seattle. has been expensive, even insurance, rental contract to the roof, pay for the wiring and conduit and installation costs.

Lilian: the electricity was something we didn’t were prepared, cause electrical is unstable, and also storms… we have a lot of problems with this issue, and many equipment was damaged because of lightning strikes. Also the situation in the territory and the pandemic, but also the violence because the region in the last years were more calm and pacific territory, but with the pandemic returned some armed troops that was complex to manage.

Penelope: people were against this community networks, cause were another type of option of communications, like the fixed telephone shelters (casetas telefonicas) that are much more expensive than the celluar one…

Esther: and how did oyu overcome this.

Penelope: after deployment, peoiple compared prices. fixed telephone shelters were more expensive, and you had to go to call, or pay to whoever told you that you had an incoming call. they saw this as a real benefit and not as a private business like the other options.

Esther: did they had to shutdown business then?

Penelope: continues, some use the mobile network… we see the increment of wireless internet service providers there are a lot more people providing residencial internet services that are looking at the mobile community network as a menace, we are discussing with these providers that we are not competitors, see us as a team to provide good services in the communties.

Esther: unanticipated challenges due to the pandemic?

Lilian: difficult to move to the terrotiory (our team) and people in there couldn’t move around. we had problems with the radio bases. we had to wait for the time to pass. also because of the violent groups that go around…

Penelope: the same: everything slowed down, moved to the end of the year or stopped at all, some communities shut down their entrances, we had to get a special permission from the authorities to get to the communities.

Esther: for us since our network is starting up in the pandemic, we got initial funding for covid to improve connectivity, but also the dificulty of training virtually, you can’t do hands-on training… community organizing is also difficult, no meetings.

A lot of site surveys, i did some but coudn’t invite others to join. I would normally say all come and see roof top space, a lot of on-site learning, but often is just me as i was able to receive the vaccine so it is safer… it is unfortunate that we can’t be together a lot of the time.

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Thank you Penelope, Esther, Lilian, Nico and APC team. It was good to listen and learn. Cheers

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You can find the recordings here:

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Transcripts

Mobile telephony CNs in the global South
29 April 2021
14 UTC
25 participants

Guests:

  • Lilian
  • Penelope
    Moderator:
  • Esther
    Note takers:
  • Kathleen
  • Nils

Welcome from Nico! :slight_smile:
Introduction to the “Tech Talk” webinar series

  • Principles of Participation - feel free to read them
  • Introduction of guests and moderator
  • Introduction of participants

Why are cellular networks chosen?

Penelope

  • Main reason: the coverage, we can go to the whole community with terminals or mobile phones they already have

Lilian

  • We saw an opportunity to have an availability and covereage. Some leave to farms and work that are far from their home and they want to maintain communications. The cell phone network brings possibility to share infrastructure amongst many people.
  • They are famliar with this network and technology and easier for them to use the cellphone network

What kind of technologies did you deploy?

Penelope: 2G network - can use for telegram and whatsapp. We are transitioning to 4G and wifi mesh networks

Lilian: we have been working with different communities, and each have different solutions.
In Buena Aires, Cauca, we did 2 G and some wifi points to link the radio bases.
In other ocmmunities, we have a wifi-network that many different community uses, and wifi within the communities
share backhaul with all communities
We also tested TV White space links.

Esther: in Seattle, we are using a new frequency and we will talk about spectrum policy
Citizen Broadband Radio service - dynamic
Spectrum Allocation Services
The transmitters need higher power
The CBRS spectrum is only supported on certain phones like IPhone and Pixel 4+. It is a hurdle and it is experimental
It is possilble to run LTE but you have to have the phones that support that frequency. It is a challenge.

Penelope: are you looking for ‘cheap’ terminals. We have fixed wireless receivers mounted in your house. If you have ‘line of sight’
Esther: you can receive it in your home. We envision many rural areas could use this. Prices of handsets and receivers are still expensive but we have support to get them to poorer communities

here’s a list of CBRS capable devices I just dug out: CBRS capable devices in the market | Celona Help Center

Questions:
- what about fixed wireless over LTE?
- can you source cheap MiFi - style dongles

The origin stories of our networks are also interesting.

Lilian: Buenos Aires is a rural community with indigenous and peasent people. We started in 2014 with ex FARC combatents and working with surrunding communities…there was no cellphone infrastructure…we teamed up with TIC and Rhizomatica and got inspired and talked back to the communities…with the support of Rhizomtica we designed and planned a cellphone network. We then had to get an experimental licence and worked on an agreement, because exppensive. After 3 years in 2019 we could reach an agreement with the ministry to exlore different technolgies

TIC: It started with the need of the communities: no access. We are in Oaxaca state, lots of mountains, hard to reach, no good roads and infrastructure, unthinkable for enterprises to go there. With Peter Bloom and Erick Huerta looking into possibilities of affordable tech and we started to deploy a network, at first without a licence, it was in Talia de Castro and then we had to work to get the license, in 2016 we succeeded, the first concession for indigenous operators…since this year we have the option to be an operator in all those communities in Southern Mexico.

Esther:

What was challenging and how did you overcome regulatory problems? Any lessons to share?

Penelope: TIC: In Mexico we have a very good legal team, also IFETEL (federal institute of communications) was supportive. It went smoothly also because of the marketing. It was not good for the govbernment to be seen as limitor. Even if we have the concession, some time after there was a request to pay for it and just this year we won our case and will not have to pay. Now we are asking for more spectrum to run 4G in other frequencies. We are confident to get it for the support of the upblic.

Lilian: in Columbia it has been a learning proces. With ICT government and regulators in a lond dialogue, 2019-2020 almost one year working in different documents and telling them about the process and progress of the network. We did not have the expertise in regulation but still lots of advicsors. But it was hard to work with the government. Sometimes government expects information and hard to know what they want. But we explained the importance and participated in open consultations, together with other organisations we shared information and tried to participated in different spaces. When new rules for ICT were discussed, it was funny, because the government went around the country and met people who knew about our work…a good lobby that worked. Maybe the first staep that will allow for better regulation.

Esther:

Why did it take so many years? What slowed down the process?

Lilian: It is important to know the right people and people interested in those things. The government need also arguments to convicne other polititians or tech companies. Important to understand this common language. But also the process with the communities takes time. They have to understand the technology and need time to find the right model. TO got very fast is not how it works.

TIC: We got the license quickly but then it took us long time to resolve the request to pay and to apply the supreme court. It took time resolve all this.

Esther: in the US a bit simpler. THe FCC (Federal Communications Commission) allowed the usage of the sepctrum we wanted and we could directly start with local governments and wanted to engage with social actors in the city. We got a contact with Seattle City IT and I am in touch with a person to help with permits to put antenas on buildings. We have a meeting every week and got lots of access, to school roof tops to put LTE antenas. But each city has its own procedures. Now in the South of Seattle in touch with smaller, poorer town…it is still very local not nation wide.

Lilian: I agree, in our case you could also say that our model is not fit for all reagions and communities. THe government wanted to define a unique model and it was difficult for us to explain that it is not only one model. There is a need that communities explore their own models in their territories.

Could you explain what is a regulatory sandbox?

Lilian: The regulator in charge of networking, is trying to set up a regulatory sandbox. The idea is you can put in operation the strategies and models and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t adapt to the current regulation. You can bring information and in this space, look together for the right regulation to continue with this service. This is open and we are trying to introduce CNs as a sandbox and produce a regulatory framework for CNs.

Sarbani:

What has been your role in setting up the mobile telephony in your community network? How has sustainability of the network been ensured?

Penelope: My role in TIC, I am the coordinator for the operations so I set the logistics to visit the communities. The community owns the network and we support of getting the eqipment
building the capacity to manage the equipment, and continued support for the technical, social, legal issues that arise.
Every community became an opertaor, and sustainability comes when the number of users are big enough that every user pays a monthly fee, divided into 3 areas:
1) half of the fee remains int he community for things like electricity, the internet services (in and out-going calls), and sometimes the person who helps wiht administration of hte system
2) goes to operational team, that I lead to make the support possible
3) small common fund, insurance, in case there is an emergency… for repair and service the network.
We are not completely sustainable because the quantitiy of users is not yet there, but we are working towards that.

Esther: Each community is an operator. How is different from a commercial telco?
PEnelope: the concession status is a social indigenous operator. It is for every community with their mobile system.

Esther:

what are the legal requirements around that.

Penelope: we can only operate in areas where there are no commercial options. And we have to comply with the paperwork, like being consistently operating.
To report every month or semester how many networks we have. Because every community is part of TIC. So have to keep reporting to government, how many frequency and assignements.

does that status maintain if other commercial operators come in?

P: we are still working, but we do see commercial operators are now coming and we are trying to cope with this new challenge.
We have this other base social structure and dynamics and in cases where the telephony is seen as a community owned, they will lose some of the advantages of having their won telephone system. We are bringing consciousness of the people, about the options and to control their own expenses and the benefits.

What has been your role and sustainability been ensured?

L: when we began with the ‘dream’ in Colombia, we were working with Julian, tring to understand the technology and how to explore this opportunity and talking to the communities and the necessities in the communities.
wiht Rhizomatica team, we worked on some technical aspects, like some basics about the tech.
When more people came to work with us, then I led the team and speaking to the gov’t abou the project and explain what we are doing. My role changes depending on the necessities.
We learn alot of things when we were working with the communities.

About sustainability, we worked with the community on a financial model, it was so hard when we began because not everyone was convinced about the project.
It took some time to get the network to work, and get them to belive in what we were doing.
they were willing to pay

Then we issues with electricity and it didn’t work well, and then some went back to their region. It is a process to combine organisation and technical issues together.
Much of the work that the community did was on a voluntary basis, so the operations was not expensive because the community brought their time, energy, work, food,
and many collaboratie to get the network working, but we are also trying to work on a better model to sustain it.

Esther: Roles: Like LIlian, I take on any role that is needed.
First was to form a non-profit. In order to work with the city, and ably for grants, we formed a non-profit.
We got initial funding - federal covid relief. At the county level, we were going to focus on low-income and marginalised groups, majority unemployed, older persons
My role from the non-profit, we applied for the start up grants to buy more equipment. Our lab can set it up, we reach out to partner organisations, and tell them
we have the equipment, and capacity. So we have 2 partners, API Chaya. The group reduced violence in the local areas. They also are trying to improve internet connectivity
Black Briliance - a coalition of Black organisations across teh county. they organise with people of colour communities and they have connections wtih the city. We ran training virtually
they helped with recruitment of trainees. So I taught the training.
How do we set up an MOU? We have to come up with a structure of how fees will be used. We are discussing this in the community meetings
We have lots of volunteers. We do not have deployed networks, but we are discussing those quesitons.

5G and covid: There is misinformation. In our brochure, we speak to safety and abou the cellular power to the device which is low power.
We are designing an FAQ document if they have these types of questions and it requires outreach.

Steve: @Esther does General Access to CBRS spectrum in Seattle provide you with enough spectrum to offer broadband services?

  • currently the CBRS spectrum is not used, usually you have to purchase this service per month, per base staion. we got an experiemental license.
    Right now, it is okay for us, but in future, some telcos have bought priority access, in general, the telcos can take away this spectrum. This may take 5 years if they adopt it.
    But once they are established, that they support important services, it might be an argument to retrain it.
    The value is really in community organising, the people power and services for themsevles. hopefully that will be a basis to ask the government for considerations

How do people engage with the network?

  • we have run telephony networks, so communications has become a real possibility for the people, to contact their relatives in other cities and to call the sellers in the community.
    It has been a benefit for them.
    With the 4G, another dynamic will be experienced and we would like to address this with the community and give time to reflect of what they want and need.
    One option is to build their own content to share amongst people in the village.
    At the moment, text and voice - these have been a great opetion for them.

Esther: to follow up on this. In previous discussions you said, giving a broader access to internet there are more things done with Internet…a bigger usage.

Penelope: sure, Facebook and other things. So having limited resources you have to think waht to do with it.

Esther: the backhawl is restraint. How much is the bandwidth?

Penelope: 2mbs per second on 2G. 45mbs on 4G…with a local server this would be include local conent

Esther: is there already local content?

Penelope: it is kind of a dream that arises a couple of years ago…together with other organizations we are thinking how this could work…it is not a ready-made, Lilian has also been part in those reflections on intranets

Lilian: It is a process, many communities are already producing their own content, for radio and social media and this could be organized in a self-server in their networkd. We are also working to build capacities in the communities. We are trying, I am now in Mexico, we want to get more phones for creation of content, there are many strategies and it is an important point towards an inclusive Itnernet

Esther: indigenous content producers, that is exiting. Are there any other tools to create this local content?

Lilian: we are exploring with the other peers, exchanging ideas about different technologies, but the conent is key. After this there are many solutions. People have to produce in their own languages…

Esther: with Nico we visited one village in Oaxaca and they were already producing a lot and it was just a matter to set up a local server. Really cool. An intranet, to make this clear, is within the community, so if wider access is down, they still have local access and content and you can block usage from outside.

Wrapping up, talking about the Seattle network. One disadvantage is that it is harder to use. In WiFi you can buy mesh network devices and they are almost ready to use but for a celular we are using the open source celular ecosystem…that is harder…people understand WiFi but around cellphone there is more misinformation and fear. The training process has been hard, to make people use the command line in Linux, this is stuff people are not used to. It is a bigger learning curve but also great when people get there,this is advanced knowledge…and we want to keep this up

Opening up to more questions, if people want to still stick around…if not…

Thank you, it was a pleassure to share.

…with people who have developed such great real world networks

Esther:

Challenged by policies for cellular networks

Penelope: in Mexico a particular context, another commercial operator called the “shared network” (red compartida) it was to be suppes a neighbor…but now they are reaching out to communities and we are now thinking of becoming an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) to be able to reply with the same scheme and get the same benefits. Together with Redes and Tosepan we are going to promote this new scheme of community networks with a big company infrastructure but the benefits of a social organisation. There are many challenges. Tosepan, the larges cooperative in Mexica has been working with this scheme, but the challenge is to become an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) whcih requieres not only money but a clear orgaisation, social and legal questions.

Esther: Lilian, any hints on changing policy questions?

Lilian: we have always to look for alternative because legislation not prepared for social innovation, it is a challenge not only to participate in the open discussion because sometimes you aprticipate but they do not care…sometimes more about how polititians work, understand…

Esther: I empathize with this, it is an adjustment coming from a tech background.

And now offline questions…

…so I will not continue :wink:

In sustainibility, Were there any discoveries or unanticipated responses ?

Esther: there to be so much concern about the radiation. this is the curse of knowledge. since i know that the eequipment is low power and safe, and how much distance i have to be from it. so i didn’t anticipate the concerns people would have.
Also, I didin’t expect so much concern about lyiability: antennas are small, but when people are asked to put an antenna to be put in their roof, people ask for insurance, they want a contractor to be hired to do that… regulations about buildings that have to follow in seattle. has been expensive, even insurance, rental contract to the roof, pay for the wiring and conduit and installation costs.

Lilian: the electricity was something we didn’t were prepared, cause electrical is unstable, and also storms… we have a lot of problems with this issue, and many equipment was damaged because of lightning strikes. Also the situation in the territory and the pandemic, but also the violence because the region in the last years were more calm and pacific territory, but with the pandemic returned some armed troops that was complex to manage.

Penelope: people were against this community networks, cause were another type of option of communications, like the fixed telephone shelters (casetas telefonicas) that are much more expensive than the celluar one…

Esther: and how did oyu overcome this.

Penelope: after deployment, peoiple compared prices. fixed telephone shelters were more expensive, and you had to go to call, or pay to whoever told you that you had an incoming call. they saw this as a real benefit and not as a private business like the other options.

Esther: did they had to shutdown business then?

Penelope: continues, some use the mobile network… we see the increment of wireless internet service providers there are a lot more people providing residencial internet services that are looking at the mobile community network as a menace, we are discussing with these providers that we are not competitors, see us as a team to provide good services in the communties.

Esther:

Any unanticipated challenges due to the pandemic?

Lilian: difficult to move to the terrotiory (our team) and people in there couldn’t move around. we had problems with the radio bases. we had to wait for the time to pass. also because of the violent groups that go around…

Penelope: the same: everything slowed down, moved to the end of the year or stopped at all, some communities shut down their entrances, we had to get a special permission from the authorities to get to the communities.

Esther: for us since our network is starting up in the pandemic, we got initial funding for covid to improve connectivity, but also the dificulty of training virtually, you can’t do hands-on training… community organizing is also difficult, no meetings.

A lot of site surveys, i did some but coudn’t invite others to join. I would normally say all come and see roof top space, a lot of on-site learning, but often is just me as i was able to receive the vaccine so it is safer… it is unfortunate that we can’t be together a lot of the time.

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Thanks everyone who have joined the first webinar.

Also wanted to let you know that we are preparing the next one that will happen in 10 days.

You can already RSVP and help us shape it with your questions regarding the matter here:

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As a follow-up for our call, Keith (collegue of @Penelope) gave a presentation a few days ago about the technical elements of how they approach mobile telephony.
You can find it in here: Community Network Webinars and Events! - #66 by nicopace