Cell Phones at Burning Man

Rumor has it that there may be some cell phone service at Burning Man. This is generally unpopular…

Rick: My normal phone has been turned off for the duration of the burn. Until then, if you need to contact me, give me a call on my uber secret non work phone. The number is …

Lee: Be warned that there is a scavenger hunt going on at Burning Man. “A person talking on a cell phone” is worth something like 1,000 points. If they catch you, they will put you and your phone in a burlap bag and drag you out to the trash fence.

Rick: I have no intention of using my phone at BM unless someone is bleeding. I also am tired of recruiters calling…

Lee: Awww. Come on, That’s 1,000 points! I’d clean up!

Rick: Well, start bleeding, then!

Lee: Touché!


  1. Alexis says:

    I don’t know why the idea of cell phones at BM really saddens me, but it does…

  2. lee says:

    I left my phone off the whole week. When I was driving out, I turned it on and saw a message from Charlotte who was panicked that I hadn’t come home yet (I left a day later than expected). I called her from the playa and she was much relieved. She even got to hear on the phone the port-a-potty that played “Happy Birthday to you” alllllllll week long

  3. lee says:

    A CNet article gives the skinny on cell phones at Burning Man this past year.


    On August 20, Commnet Wireless installed a temporary cellular tower on private land right near the Burning Man site at a hot springs called Frog Pond, Mark Hansen, vice president of network operations at the wholesale wireless carrier, said on Thursday. The tower, sitting on a trailer and powered by solar and wind, transmits via satellite to the mobile-phone network, he said.
    The company has a permanent cell tower above Empire, Nevada, about 15 miles from Burning Man, he said. But the company was curious to find out what kind of demand there was at the event and even more so, wanted to test out technology that could be used to serve remote communities, such as the Indian reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, he said.
    There were technical challenges, and the service could offer only voice, not data, over the satellite connection, according to Hansen. People in the area made and received about 300,000 calls during the event, he said. Commnet had expected demand to be two to three times that, he added.
    Commnet plans to remove the mobile tower next week and likely won’t be back at Burning Man next year.
    “Right now, I think we’re going to lose money” as a result of the cost of deployment far exceeding the amount made from roaming charges, he said. “If we can’t make money, we won’t be back.”
    The company had approached the Burning Man organization about the project beforehand and was told that the event wasn’t interested in it being there, Hansen said.

    “The culture is one where they want people to be able to get away from their phones, and we can understand that,” he said.
    Meanwhile, Commnet worked with a Burning Man theme camp called Papa Legba, which ran a free limited voice and text service as part of an open-source cellular network called the OpenBTS Project, to make sure that the two services didn’t interfere with each other.

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