Swedish start-up TerraNet claims peer-to-peer mobile will increase phone penetration in developing countries


Swedish start-up TerraNet has revealed further detail of its ‘peer-to-peer’ mobile phone technology that it claims could play a big role in increasing phone penetration in developing countries.

According to TerraNet CEO and founder, Anders Carlius the company is working on what he calls ‘ad hoc’ networking Terranet’s peer-to-peer technology turns each handset into a switching node, passing on calls from other handsets within a 1 kilometre range. Each handset can simultaneously transit 7 calls and each call can make 7 hops before the switching delay starts to make conversation difficult.

This peer-to-peer hopping communications has been done before in military applications, although expensively, and in the Tetra emergency communications system, but this is the first time anyone has tackled the mass market in this way.

But isn’t the seven kilometre limit a real drawback? “It only seems so because we, us rich people in the west, are all used to zooming around the country or around the world. The other 4 billion don’t travel more than a few kilometres in a typical working day”. And most of the people they know spend all their time within the those few kilometers too.”

Carlius is concerned to overcome the barrier to phone use from illiteracy. “I remember talking to a Pakistani telco who told me there was no way he could ever get beyond 40% penetration,” said Carlius. “‘Never? I asked.’ No,’ he said, ‘because 60% of our population is illiterate and innumerate and they therefore can’t use a phone.’ And he was right,” says Carlius. “If you think about it you can’t use a phone if you can’t read or manipulate numbers.”

So Carlius’s next rethink was around the three button phone concept. An ad hoc networking phone might use people’s pictures instead of their names and numbers, he says. But perhaps the most important, and most re-thought, part of the model is Carlius’s ideas around distribution. Instead of a telecom network, TerraNet (or whoever had licensed the technology) would build a network of agents to push the phones, collect the monies and, most important, load up the appropriate photos for the illiterate customers.

The technology still has to journey into final product. Journalists were shown a large circuit board working prototype but TerraNet says it has advance orders and expects to be manufacturing in bulk soonish.