Ping in the cellular networks

I have thought about it for a while: would it make sense to create a ping-like functionality in the cellular mobile phone networks? I tend to think that it would.

Currently, many users (especially the younger ones) have developed a type of action called «unanswered call» («squillo» in italian) which can mean several things: sometimes it means «call me, because I’m out of credit», sometimes (among female friends) it means «I’m thinking about you», other times it is a signal (e.g. I’ll come pick you up, I’ll give you a «squillo» when I leave so you can be ready when I arrive at your place). There are surely other uses that I’m not aware of.

The main benefit of the «squillo» is that it’s free (for the user). The main disadvantage is that cellular networks are not designed for this type of activity. The result is that, when one user gives a «squillo» to another, a lot of things happen in the network that didn’t need to happen:
the network first checks if you have enough credit to establish a call (even though at the end no money will be charged), then it tries to find the receiving cellphone, and it established a circuit between them (GSM networks are circuit-switched, just like the PSTN, rather than packet-switched, like the Internet for example).

Instead, with an explicit «squillo» functionality, the network’s database would not have to be accessed to check if you have enough credit, and the «squillo» could be transferred asynchronously, just like an SMS, rather than synchronously, which would be much lighter for the network (the message would still arrive at the recipient in a matter of seconds).

Main obstacles keeping such a functionality from happening:

  • the networks need to be upgraded for this feature, and the phones too
  • the cost savings for the networks would not be enough to justify the investment
  • users would see much advantage (ok, maybe you wouldn’t need to put the phone to your ear and wait for it to ring 1-2 times, then hang up)

Now, wouldn’t all this be much easier with an SDR-based infrastructure (both in base stations and in terminals)?

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One thought on “Ping in the cellular networks”

  1. although I am not an expert in this I would think that telecoms would not be willing to implement it for the simple reason that it would, in certain situations, weaken the motivation of users to recharge. It could also give rise to efforts to create a language out of «squillo» combos which could effectively replace to some extend short sms messages. Further, the increased usage of unanswered calls would make it necessary to start charging for the service as, in the end, it does consume network resources (however small)


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