Now that we are in the home stretch for the Librem 5 launch, it’s a good time to start discussing some visions for the future. While the Librem 5 can operate as a traditional cellular phone today, in this post we are going to discuss its potential as a “no-carrier phone.”
The term “no-carrier phone” is used for a mobile phone that does not get its phone number from a carrier. This can take a couple of forms: a WiFi connection-only phone, or a Cellular Data connection-only phone.
In other industries, for instance in media distribution, this is called “Over-The-Top” (OTT); the underlying idea is that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be, and are just, “dumb pipes”. Why?, because they provide internet data only–and all the services ride over-the-top of the internet connection. Netflix paved the way for OTT in media when it moved from DVD to streaming (the “Net” part of their name) and offered television and movie-content to any internet connected device. This was done against the wishes of many entrenched media groups and ISPs, of course–but the majority of us have now adopted the OTT model: we call them streaming services.
We do not need to get our primary mobile phone number from a carrier—routing all our voice data, messaging data and internet data. If the carriers were just “dumb pipes”, they would offer us data-only connections, allowing us to get personal services from any competitor offering an internet tool we need or like–including a phone number. Sure, the carriers could bundle their own a la carte offering of services, but as the US Congress established a while ago with the FCC during the phone-number-lock-in wars (from the US Telco providers) people should be able to keep their phone number and just switch providers.
Over-The-Top means you would have a fully-functioning phone–and a phone number–portable to whatever internet connection you desire; be that a cellular carrier, a prepaid SIM card, a coffee-shop WiFi, tethered to a friend’s device, USB hotspot or whatever other fun thing you’d like to try (BlueTooth mesh network, anyone?).
Once Librem Dial is released in the future, it would mean you could have a non-carrier-provided phone number which could be used no matter what connection you have over-the-top; that you could make or receive calls to your primary phone number if you are on WiFi and no Cellular connection. You could flip the Cellular Modem Hardware Kill Switch (HKS) on your Librem 5 and still call or text from your primary phone number while at that coffee-shop WiFi.
This would offer you the ability to have a no-carrier phone–in either form–that now you only have when on WiFi–which means no triangulation-location tracking from cellular towers. Or you could have it tethered via WiFi to another device; or a no-carrier phone number whereby you use a prepaid data-only SIM card, or even opt to have a data-only SIM card from a carrier. I would still call this a no-carrier phone, as the phone’s number is not attached to any carrier.
Because cellular carriers offer voice and SMS messaging even when you are outside of cellular data regions, you can still make or receive a call (or send and receive text messaging) with very weak data signals. This is why you can still call and text even if you turn off cellular data on your phone. In a no-carrier model—where the service rides purely over the data connection—your services would only work when there is data connection to your phone, be that WiFi or cellular data. Even with this downside, the benefits are tremendous of course–including having complete privacy control of your device’s location, control over when you’d like to connect and use your cellular data plan, and the ability to switch providers without ever having to reconfigure your accounts or settings.
Triple-digit, year-over-year growth offers us a unique opportunity to serve society–as our Social Purpose Corporation status requires–changing society for the better all along the way.