A “collective of cellphone enthusiasts” is creatively using Linux and special hardware to help people without cellphones stay connected.
As payphones have largely been replaced by cell phones, many cities have begun to phase them out. A group in Philadelphia is putting them back together, and the new ones are powered by Linux and open-source software. Best of all, you don’t need to hunt for coins to use them.
Why PhilTel is reinventing the pay phone (minus the “Pay” part)
The project is carried by PhilTel, a Philadelphia-based “amateur phone collective”. The project is to build a network of public telephones in the city that will allow anyone to make free calls in North America, according to opensource.com. He was inspired by futela similar project in Portland, Oregon.
Why are they doing this when most people are more likely to have a smartphone than loose change in their pockets? According to a PhilTel member mike dank, many people don’t, either because they can’t afford it or because they just value their privacy. “My co-founder on this project doesn’t own a cell phone himself, so we have first-hand experience of what it’s like not to have a phone on you at all times and the importance of having access to public phones,” he told Opensource.com.
With the removal of payphones in Philadelphia and many other cities, Dank said many residents who rely on payphones could be cut off from communications.
How does the PhilTel pay phone network work?
The heart of PhilTel is a Linux-based virtual private server running the open-source Asterisk PBX server. This server connects the network of refurbished payphones to the public telephone network via a VoIP service through hardware that interfaces the analog telephone to the digital network and then to a router installed on site that connects to the PBX server. Network traffic is encrypted with OpenVPN.
For ordinary callers, phones will work as they did in the analog era, minus the need to insert coins before making a call. There is a special circuit board that replaces the coin acceptor equipment. Calls will be completely free.
What’s next for PhilTel?
The first phone using the network will debut at Iffy Books on December 17, 2022, just in time for those who would like to make those holiday phone calls.
The collective has other plans for the network than just making phone calls. On their homepage, they mention that they would like to implement a feature to randomly call other PhilTel phones, as well as calls to a network of collectors of vintage telephone equipment connected to modern VoIP hardware. It will most likely be the C*NET network. For PhilTel, it’s about maintaining a connection with the “phreaking” community of people exploring telephone networks, perhaps the original hacker community.
Linux helps you stay connected, on the street or in your pocket
The open source nature of Linux has made it popular for use in projects its creators never envisioned. Although it can power payphones, it has also become popular in mobile use, especially Google’s Android. There are other Linux-based mobile operating systems that diehards can experience on their devices.