Cellular

A longstanding rumour surrounding iPhone has been the introduction of a mobile network run by Apple. Although the company did indeed negotiate with network providers toward such goals, even before the original iPhone, they denied making such efforts currently.

As Reddit user AppKatt pointed out, the upcoming version of iOS allows iPhone users to send and receive calls and text messages apps in Apple's native apps, even when they are not using a cell network. Whenever the device is connected to WLAN, other messaging apps and VoIP telephony apps continue to work and are seamlessly integrated, allowing people to communicate as usual.

Assuming that Apple indeed has given up on its plans to sell mobile service to customers, these software changes could be the first step in a new strategy to replace cellular networks entirely. With current iPhone hardware, the only viable option to achieve this is an expansion of WLAN networks. Several advantages compared to legacy telephony would be possible, mostly because no reliance on any one service provider is necessary. For everyone, this would mean cost savings and privacy from corporations and states.

Such a change promises peace of mind and simplicity for everyone who wishes to communicate on the go. Still, the technical implications show a few problems and limitations. Read on for my discussion of a few intriguing aspects.

Me:

Low-tech magazine is a good starting point. Specifically, see "WiFi-Based Community Networks in Europe". When there aren't enough people in an area willing to create nodes, Open Wireless Movement is a good solution for creating hotspots. As iOS 10 points out when connecting to an open network though, all traffic can be recorded. You are always exposing yourself to attackers and government spying with unencrypted internet use anyway, but ubiquitous WiFi would make the point for encryption everywhere, e.g. via VPN. The best case would be if Apple allowed routing iOS traffic through Tor; as with all of this, decentralisation is key.

AppKatt:

I already run a VPN on my iPhone. Wouldn't that be enough to hide your personal information from open networks?

Me:

That's what I do too and it's a perfectly fine solution for us. When thinking about long-term solutions to secure the general public though, trust in any single company should be avoided. Because the VPN provider can intercept all HTTP data as well as log metadata, this is a weak spot for privacy invasions from the company itself, hackers, and states. In Tor, only end-nodes see unencrypted traffic. They don't pose as much of a risk because traffic they see cannot be tied to a user. In short, Tor and VPN both protect against MITM1 attacks in the local network, but VPN does not provide sufficient anonymity/ anti-surveillance.

My phone has been in Airplane mode for the last few weeks, and WLAN continues to be enough. The screen looks simpler, because there is no network name, and I don't need to pay for service.


  1. allowing interception and modification of internet traffic ↩︎