Hundreds of millions of people still live beyond the coverage of basic mobile connectivity, primarily in rural areas with low population density. Mobile-network operators (MNOs) traditionally struggle to justify expansion into these rural areas due to the high infrastructure costs necessary to provide service. Community cellular networks, networks built “by and for” the people they serve, represent an alternative model that, to an extent, bypasses these business case limitations and enables sustainable rural coverage. Yet despite aligned economic incentives, real deployments of community cellular networks still face significant regulatory, commercial and technical challenges.
In this paper, we present CommunityCellularManager (CCM), a system for operating community cellular networks at scale. CCM enables multiple community networks to operate under the control of a single, multi-tenant controller and in partnership with a traditional MNO. CCM preserves flexibility for each community network to operate independently, while allowing the mobile network operator to safely make critical resources such as spectrum and phone numbers available to these networks. We evaluate CCM through a multi-year, large-scale community cellular network deployment in the Philippines in partnership with a traditional MNO, providing basic communication services to over 2,000 people in 15 communities without requiring changes to the existing regulatory framework, and using existing handsets. We demonstrate that CCM can support independent community networks with unique service offerings and operating models while providing a basic level of MNO-defined service. To our knowledge, this represents the largest deployment of community cellular networks to date.
Shaddi Hasan, Mary Claire Barela, Matthew Johnson, Eric Brewer, and Kurtis Heimerl. 2019. Scaling community cellular networks with community cellular manager. In Proceedings of the 16th USENIX Conference on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI’19). USENIX Association, USA, 735–750.
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