IT Life

The Solution To Mobile Phone Deadlock? Somebody Has To Die

Every time we butt up against some rotten problem in the mobile phone world, everyone's got someone else to blame. The solution: Kill somebody (metaphorically). Columnist Cory Doctorow shows us how.
I have a feeling that the best way to slay this hellspawn is by virtualizing the SIM card -- that little removable chip that tells your phone what its number is when it connects to the network. These plastic gewgaws can be bought prepaid, with airtime, SMS messages, and other valuable services. The problem is that large groups of users can't join forces and buy dozens of SIM cards, sharing them depending on who has the best deal. Imagine that you want to find a Wi-Fi hotspot to make a VoIP call with your suitably equipped handset -- you could tell your phone to use "your" SIM to authenticate to the network and send an SMS to a server that can give your phone a password for a nearby hotspot, then "loan" you another SIM to log in to a wireless phone service that includes a cheaper voice-rate that you can use on the way.

All these SIMs register and unregister your phone number of the moment with a free PBX, like the awesomely full-featured and robust Asterisk, so that your calls always reach you, and they'd spoof the outgoing number so that your calls would be returned to the correct number. This is similar to the way that a home NAT router shares a single IP address among many computers, keeping track of who gets packets for which session when with a little lookup table in its guts.

The best thing about this plan is that by buying giant blocks of prepaid airtime and service, you're hitting the carriers where it hurts, by using the services enjoyed by their best, most profitable customers. Every countermeasure they take against your service is an impediment to their bread-and-butter types. Those great customers form a human shield for your surgical strike on the carriers.

Maybe it won't work -- but what's the worst thing that could happen? You'd end up with a competitor to the telcos that de-fubared their business-practices, a geek carrier that treated us all like customers, not hostages.

Cory Doctorow is co-author of the Boing Boing blog, as well as a journalist, Internet activist, and science fiction writer. Read his previous InformationWeek columns.