FIELD WORK: Dr Gardner-Stephen tests mobiles in Arkaroola.
FIELD WORK: Dr Gardner-Stephen tests mobiles in Arkaroola. Contributed

End to phone towers in lab

NEW technology being developed may offer communities an alternative to the dreaded mobile phone tower.

As Nimbin residents negotiate with Telstra about a proposal to build a new mobile phone tower within the township, researchers from Flinders University are thinking outside the square.

Rural and remote telecommunications fellow Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen said many people were sensitive about the towers because they emit radiation and were an eyesore.

His research team, known as the Serval Project, is developing a smart phone application which will allow users to communicate directly from phone to phone without the signal being bounced from a phone tower.

Using Wi-Fi radio in smart-phones, the application will detect other phones with the same capacity and will be able to communicate directly. Other radio technologies will broaden the range of the phones. Helper devices will connect the phones to the internet so global communication will be possible.

The technology is being developed as an open source product, meaning it will be free to download and users can modify it and help to further develop it. The best part is phone calls will be free. Dr Gardner-Stephen said the technology would help people in war-torn countries and vulnerable people across the globe.

"All people should be able to benefit from technology," he said. "People all over the world will be able to communicate without a carrier or the government."

Trials of the technology in communities willing to participate are expected to begin at the end of this month or early next year.

Nimbin is already talking about forming its own Serval Mesh Group to participate in the trial. Meanwhile, Telstra conducted two community consultation sessions in Nimbin last week. It said it would continue to consult with the community about the location of the tower.

And, while some have expressed strong concerns about the tower, others such as Martin Oliver, of Nimbin, accept the tower will bring benefits to the town.

"I don't want towers everywhere, but it is the 21st century. Why don't we dictate where they can put them," he said. Telstra has not yet identified a location for the tower.

For more information visit


SERVAL believes communication is a human right. It aims to make access to communications a fairer and attainable proposition for everyone

"Someone could have been injured or killed"

premium_icon "Someone could have been injured or killed"

An RFS crew sheltered in their truck as the grass fire overcame them

How this Ballina mum juggles kids and a thriving business

premium_icon How this Ballina mum juggles kids and a thriving business

"Kids are amazing but... having a passion is fulfilling as well”

GALLERY: Burnt out fire truck

premium_icon GALLERY: Burnt out fire truck

The RFS truck will probably be written off.

Local Partners