While thousands are counting down the days until they arrive in Black Rock Desert for Burning Man this year, there’s already a number of people out there on the playa getting things ready….. and they’re calling and tweeting back to us looking for someone to bring the things they forgot. Yes, that’s right there is cell service on the playa this year. How do I know? I got a call from Rubin while he was sitting at the space reserved for our camp (Ardent Heavy Industries). In addition several others are tweeting up a storm: @SFSlim, @steve23, @Rubin110, @TKimball, @JosephPred, and more. And of course foursquare had to get in on the action and quickly added Black Rock City to their database so people could check in. As of this writing, SFSlim is the Mayor of The Man but we predict this to change once Steve23 hears wind of it.
The cell service appears to be limited to AT&T and Verizon, but from what we hear people are getting 5 bars inside Black Rock City. Apparently the service is mostly coming from a temporary tower that was installed on some leased land near Frog Pond, which is less than a mile from the trash fence that marks the border of Black Rock City. How are they doing it? According to @ChrisPetrell it’s a combination of solar/wind powered tower with a satellite uplink. It’s not official Burning Man cell coverage and the Burning Man Org has nothing to do with it, but DPW and other volunteers already on the playa are using it. In addition to this temporary tower, there are also permanent AT&T and Verizon towers south of Empire that people are reporting service from. And finally, there is a theme camp that is providing a GSM->VOIP gateway. I’m assuming this rumored theme camp is the same as the OpenBTS project I posted about last year.
But before you get your hopes up, know that the chance of this service making it through Burning Man without melting down is slim to none. Joseph Pred notes:
Important cell phone update: Temp site only supports 23 Verizon/CDMA users and no SMS. AT&T/GSM supports 35 users with SMS but limited EDGE.
This means you’ll have quite the battle with 40-50,000 other attendees if you need to make a call home. Rubin mentioned that he was already having trouble and the event is not due to start for almost a week. I think it’s still appropriate to tell your boss/significant other/etc that you are not contactable while out on the playa. Besides, do you really want to get that call about the firewall going down while you’re in the middle of 2pir surrounded by an actual wall of fire?
What do you guys think about cell phones on the playa? Good, bad, who cares?
original Man image from Dan Garcia