Mike Morearty
05 Jul 2012

Peer-to-peer message-passing to deal with overloaded cell phone networks?

At a crowded Fourth of July parade yesterday, I of course had nonexistent cell phone/internet reception. This is almost always true in any really crowded place.

So I was wondering: Is it possible for someone (e.g. Apple or Google) to build some sort of peer-to-peer message-passing system to allow messages to get in and out?

The idea would be that a phone would detect that it was having a very hard time connecting to the cell tower, but it could detect other phones in the immediate vicinity. So it would use some sort of handshake to find one that was connected, and ask that device to be a proxy, and pass messages through.

For example, picture a crowded room with 50 people, no cell phones, and three land lines. Normally, this would mean that only three people at a time could be on the phone. But if the three people who are on the phone were somehow capable of multiplexing, then someone else in the room could yell out, “Hey, I need to make a call—is anyone here connected to a land line?”

One of the guys who is on the phone says, “Yeah, tell me the number and I’ll dial it.” He dials the number, and then verbally relays the conversation back and forth. And like I said, he’s multiplexing, so he is doing this while continuing his own conversation.

Could cell phones do this? If my phone successfully connects to a cell tower, it could locally broadcast a signal saying, “Hey, I’m connected to the Internet, if anyone cares.” Then, another local phone might hear that and say, “Oh good, because I haven’t been able to connect—I want to proxy all my messages through you.”

There are, of course, problems that would have to be dealt with:

But I am more interested in hearing whether this is a workable idea (or has been done already), rather than about all the potential pitfalls.

Comments on on Hacker News or Twitter please.

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