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In 2028, all the major telecommunications companies unified. "We already have to work tightly together in order to maintain cross-continent communication systems, and we can reduce costs if we can operate as a single entity." Five years later, WorldTeleco turns evil. They realise that since they control the flow of information, they can manipulate and control more effectively than the government.

It is into this world that our intrepid heros (engineers, scientists and hackers) emerge. Their aim? Ensure that everyone in the world can resume communications similar to before - but without any of the existing infrastructure. In short, they're building AltTelco.

Things I'd like from a solution:

  • Doesn't require rolling out new hardware to every human on the planet (eg if they can keep using their smartphones, they should). Even distributing software to all people is hard.
  • Initial implementation should be possible with what they are likely to have (eg WorldTeleco may get suspicious if the heroes start purchasing cellphone towers, satellite parts and cable-laying-ships). Some specialist equipment can be sourced such as HAM radios, consumer wifi repeaters, microcontrollers, solar cells, batteries and the like.
  • Ideally the roll-out should be reasonably rapid. If they wait too long, WorldTeleco will just increase in tenacity. Their security forces (ahem, uh, militia) will turn into an army and their world domination will be complete.
  • Be realistically achievable by distributed groups with no initial coordination: group A organises something in city A, group B organises something in city B. Group C organises something in country C. After some time all these groups, operating independently, should be able to merge their infrastructure.
  • Bandwidth doesn't have to be crazy high. Voice calls (~100kb/s) across the world are what we are aiming for here. Anything else is bonus points.
  • The infrastructure should be resilient. If WorldTelco takes out one AltTelco installation, that shouldn't be the end of AltTelco.
  • It would be nice if AltTelco could avoid detection by WorldTelco until it's at a point where it's well established enough to be "too hard" for WorldTelco to remove. This is somewhat sideways to the main aim though. If your solution is immediately and directly traceable, that's probably fine: I can hand-wave WorldTelco not noticing for a while.

I'm sure solutions have occurred at a small scale in the real world already, so if you know of any, they are definitely relevant. (Eg the FabFi Project)

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    $\begingroup$ /In short, they're building AltTelco/ Five years later, AltTelco turns evil... $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Oct 5 '21 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ Have you noticed the padlock symbol in the address bar? It indicates that technical measures are in place so that whatever telecommunications companies carry the data from StackExchange.com to your browser cannot manipulate the information. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 5 '21 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't this story a bit too on the nose? Although, I guess 1984 is a bit too on the nose in the world we live in today... $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Oct 5 '21 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk Unless the "co" stands for something other than "corporation", such as "cooperative" or "coordinated distributed protocol". $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Oct 5 '21 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ Re: "100kb/s", old-style analog POTS telephony only requires 56 kilobits/sec to transmit intelligible speech. $\endgroup$ Oct 5 '21 at 21:15
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Powerline internet.

https://broadbandnow.com/Powerline

Electric Powerline Internet In The United States Broadband over powerline (BPL) is a internet service type where customers get high-speed internet connections through their standard electrical outlets.

Users simply plug a power line modem into any socket and there is no need for additional special wiring.

This emerging technology, shows potential because already installed power lines can be used to service customers without needing to build a completely new broadband infrastructure.

There have been a number of providers using BPL in the U.S., but none of them are still operating as of 2016. Most cases of powerline broadband were implemented by the electric companies that owned the local power lines in order to serve rural areas without any broadband infrastructure. Since the Broadband Initiative in 2009, these electric companies have largely opted to use the available government grants to fund new fiber optic infrastructure rather than rely on broadband over power line.

Your rebels use the power lines. There are many of them. People who want to make phone calls usually have electricity sorted out. The power companies cooperate. The power lines still work for getting power out. The power companies are not evil hegemonies, although not for lack of trying. And they like the hats those evil hegemaniacs wear. Your rebels promise they can wear them.

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For inspiration, you might look at a real life analogue to this.

Though existing telecom companies like Comcast do not fully own the entire telecom industry, the small bunch that controls everything have a pretty solid monopoly.

However, there is a big competitor coming up - SpaceX's Starlink.

Starlink stands to be a massive disruptor to existing telecom, especially in rural areas. It is currently in the process of going from beta to full release, but results so far shows that it is far more powerful than past satellite internet, and may even be competitive with older telecom companies.

This service is being rolled out surprisingly fast - the first satellites for the Starlink constellation were rolled out only a few years ago. The pace of deployment will only skyrocket once SpaceX debuts their rocket Starship - and by 2028 it will be a very well proven system, capable of launching dozens of Starlink satellites (which will have been improved by that time).

So I give this example as a very close real world analogue to your idea. Though it isn't being done in secret, it is being done very fast. To make this secret might prove difficult. Launches are difficult to hide, especially rapid ones. However, if you are advanced enough to do mining on the Moon and fabricate things there, you could build the satellites on the Moon and then deploy them back to the Earth en masse.

This would likely prompt some massive government retaliation. Of course, the premise of one telecom hegemon ever existing would spark tons of government retaliation as well.

In my opinion though, Low Earth Orbit satellite internet analogous to starlink is one of the best ways to show a noticeable alternative to traditional telecom services - if it is sufficiently advanced a subscriber can basically have wifi anywhere in the world, and it'll be improved in rural or wilderness areas.

If you need stuff down on earth to feature, you might have secret ground bases established to link up with the satellites, finding obscure places to launch rockets from -

And SpaceX isn't the only option. You might look at the company Astra, who have a very small rocket, but it is made to be extremely cheap, and eventually fly as much as once a day. Flying from a remote location, you might find such an option suitable for your story.

The notable weakness to this route is that your decentralized rebellion of sorts might have a hard time handling it. By 2028 the world satellite market will have greatly increased however, providing the option of disguising the telecom satellites as something else. Perhaps you could seek to retrofit old satellites that are now defunct into satellites for their plan.

Another weakness of this is that Starlink currently requires users to have expensive, small satellite dishes set up outside. With handwaving the tech however, I don't think most readers would bat an eye at saying you could connect via phone.

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  • $\begingroup$ I came here to mention SpaceX's Starlink. Also, the 'expensive, small satellite dishes' you mention only costs $499, hardly out of reach for most people. $\endgroup$ Oct 10 '21 at 12:48
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Smartphone Ad Hoc Networks/Mesh networks

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smartphone_ad_hoc_network

Basically, your cell phone can use the bluetooth and wifi chips built into your phone to network with nearby phones. Enough people who join the network and you'll create a highly redundant, completely decentralized communications network.

IPFS

Similar to the entry above, check out the Interplanetary File System project.

https://techcrunch.com/2015/10/04/why-the-internet-needs-ipfs-before-its-too-late/

Starlink

This entry has already been mentioned but is an excellent option. SpaceX has been panicking the entrenched players in the market with their markedly better service, significantly lowered latency and dramatically improved throughput. With the newest satellites with laser interlinks, commercial ground stations are no longer necessary(except for a 500USD user terminal the size of a pizza box/TV dish. Gwynne Shotwell thinks they can get the cost of that to $250/each).

True, one of the main reasons that SpaceX is able to beat their competitors so handily is that they are nearly fully integrated, with their own orbital launch company with rocket launch costs that are by far the cheapest in the industry. Additionally, their innovations in improving launch cadence and their flatpack satellite bus, allowing 60 Starlink satellites per launch, much more than competitors can send per launch (a recent OneWeb launch on a Soyuz rocket launched 34 satellites, for example). Their upcoming Starship (predicted to be in service in the next 1-3 years) will be able to handle at least 400 satellites per launch.

Basically, if your group has access to similar tech to SpaceX and can hide their launch activities long enough (tbf, this would be nearly impossible to hide multiple orbital launches with massive satellite deployments from a global superpower), they would be able to have worldwide communications network rolled out in short order. If they have access to a working Starship as Elon envisions it (turnaround time <1 hour), you could stockpile a few thousand satellites, and then launch them suddenly in one day. This article quotes Musk as saying that ~400 satellites are the minimum number for basic coverage. That means a single Starship packed with laserlink-enabled satellites could, wholesale, solve your issue. The only remaining issue would be distributing the user terminals, although you can use centralized ground stations which connect to the backbone (which is what SpaceX was doing before laserlinks were rolled out). Centralization makes it an easy target, though.

This solution actually has great story-building potential, especially since Starship is made from relatively simple materials (mostly stainless steel), and has been primarily designed and built in open fields and tents by welders and pipefitters, not by PhDs in specialized hi tech factories. You can craft a dramatic race to build (and hide) the construction of a single Starship and accompanying satellite payload. All the hopes, dreams, and resources are poured into this hail mary attempt, which EvilCom attempting to infiltrate the workforce and sabotage it.

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New hardware.

There already is massive redundant (in most places) major city to major city physical networks. The only major new thing is Starlink system which could be a game changer depending on price. But that would only complement the existing system, not outright replace. Major global new hardware is expensive, very expensive.

So new hardware is not going to accomplish this.

New software. (Facebook or replacement)

Facebook is already internet provider in many places in the world, buy a phone get bundled free Facebook. That is for many Facebook is the internet. Much like AOL was for a time. Facebook has just under 3 Billion active users. Approximately 40% of the earths population.

Facebook is alleged to knowingly harm people for monetary benefit.

So: world spanning communications infrastructure, morally ambiguous at best. Facebook is a real world example of an answer to the question.

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There is already a "mesh network" software that uses the Bluetooth connection built into each cell phone. This could be expanded upon.

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