Business Profile: the Swedish company making mobile calls free

In the first of a new fortnightly series, Jonathan Ward takes a look at an innovative Swedish company. This week - TerraNet, which promises to bring about the operator-free mobile.

What is TerraNet?

It’s a young, independent Swedish telecommunications company from Lund that aims to use ‘peer-to-peer’ networking to make it possible to call without an operator, revolutionizing the way telecommunications is run.


Founder Anders Carlius came up with the idea in 2004 while on safari in Tanzania, after he found he couldn’t call friends who were standing just a few metres away. He realized that the cost of infrastructure had left rural areas isolated from the mobile world.

The sales pitch

Simply that we do not need to pay large amounts of money for operators to run our wireless communications. The attraction of the idea lies in its simplicity: instead of calling via an operator, you use what is known as ‘peer-to-peer’ networking, in short, using the phones themselves as both transmitters and receivers, cutting out the need for masts.

Each phone can reach any other within 1km, with free calls and texts. A call jumps from one phone to the other to get to phones further away, making each phone part of a network.

The really clever part is that calls can also be made outside this network. All that’s needed is a computer with internet access within 1 kilometre of a TerraNet phone. The computer, equipped with a ‘dongle’ plugged into its USB port, allows users to make free VoIP calls (like Skype) to users in other TerraNet networks, and low cost calls to other normal phones.

TerraNet’s innovation also allows for devices other than phones to be connected together, such as hand-held organizers in a company.

The company is performing extensive testing of it handsets and networks in the field, with a commercial network being planned for 2008.


There is extensive interest in their work, and TerraNet has received attention from international media including the BBC.

The attraction is clear: the flexibility and low cost of the system could be a real lifeline for rural areas in developing countries, and for creating emergency networks for disaster relief. There are many recent examples where such a system could have had a real impact. But in the long term, the technology could also be attractive in western countries.

If the field tests are successful, (there were reportedly a few problems with the number of frequencies needed), not only can the licence to the technology be sold, but also the handsets needed for the system to work.

According to the company itself, many phone manufacturers have been nervous about getting involved – mobile operators are their major customers, and it’s the operators who stand to lose out. The company is therefore making its own telephones and initially focusing on countries without active mobile operators.

Developments in the world economy could affect TerraNet like any company, but their low-risk, cost-cutting solution may prove attractive, even in the event of a slump. A company to keep an eye on over the next year.

Jonathan Ward


A new kind of funeral? How religious rituals are changing in secular Sweden

Sweden is seeing a sharp rise in burials without a ceremony, writes Anne-Christine Hornborg, professor emerita at Lund University, in this opinion piece first published by The Conversation.

A new kind of funeral? How religious rituals are changing in secular Sweden
Are traditional funerals a thing of the past? Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB Scanpix/TT

The number of people who bury their dead relatives without any official ceremony is increasing rapidly in Sweden, up from less than two percent a decade ago to eight percent this year. In many big cities, the bodies of about one in ten deceased people are transferred directly from the hospital to a crematorium, with the ashes often scattered or buried by staff in anonymous memorial parks.

According to The Swedish Funeral Home Association, which released the data, such burials are extremely rare in other countries. Although according to new data from the UK's largest funeral director, Co-op Funeralcare, they are also on the rise in the UK – with one in 25 funerals being direct cremations, perhaps inspired by the late musician David Bowie.

One explanation for their popularity in Sweden could be that it is one of the most secular countries in the world, and often resists tradition. But with the majority of young people in 12 European countries reporting they have no faith, could it take off elsewhere too? And does it mean that rituals in general are on their way out?

A crematory in Sweden. Photo: Anna Hållams/TT

In Sweden, the number of regular churchgoers has been declining for some time and continues to do so. It seems like traditional church rituals don't attract modern, secular people, who may experience them as meaningless.

Take weddings. Traditional church ceremonies are reliable: if you accept and follow the rules and the authority of the ceremonial leader, the marriage will be established. But such rituals are often experienced as formal practices and lacking in personal touches.

While some wedding couples still get married in church – often for aesthetic or historical reasons – the majority of Swedes today opt for non-religious weddings. This can sometimes be in nature or in more spectacular places.


Obituaries offer another insight into how Swedes are moving away from religion. Today, the symbols used in obituaries to refer to the deceased are most often indexical signs rather than the traditional cross, which originally signalled eternal life. A teddy bear can be used when the deceased is a child, a sailing boat for the sailor, flowers for a nature lover and so on.

And funerals have been changing for some time. While the majority of funerals are still carried out by the church, some opt for non-religious ceremonies. In many western countries today, pop songs or ballads that the deceased loved are often played rather than traditional, religious hymns. A historical popular Swedish funeral song was based on the image of heaven as “a town above the clouds”, with “beaches drowned in sunshine”.

But that message doesn't appeal to the modern person. Non-religious people don't pin their hopes on an afterlife. It is the life here and now that must be fulfilled. This is reflected in a song from the popular Swedish movie As It Is In Heaven which is now also frequently played at funerals: “And the heaven I thought existed… I will find here somewhere… I want to feel that I have lived my life.”

Clearly, the rise of secularism is linked to a rise in individualism – in the absence of a god and an afterlife, we and the now become increasingly important. So just as we can see in both weddings and funerals, modern rituals focus increasingly on the individual.

A Swedish high school graduation. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

For example, in Sweden the celebration of A-level graduation (high school) is becoming an increasingly important ritual. Non-religious naming ceremonies for babies are also becoming more popular, at the expense of traditional baptism. In 2000, 72 percent of Swedish babies were baptized compared to 42 percent in 2010.

This shift to individualism is backed up by research. The US religious studies scholar Catherine Bell stated that new rituals also tend to be more private than public. “Doctrines and ethical teachings are downplayed in favour of language that stresses highly personal processes of transformation, realization, and commitment,” she wrote in the book Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions.

This has also been commodified in the form of coaching and lay therapy (that is, therapy not based on school medicine or traditional church counseling), as I have shown in my research. In these new practices, a person's “inner potential” or “authentic me” is to be identified and liberated by self-certified entrepreneurs.

This pursuit of “human inner capital” is pervasive in management courses, media and talk shows, and has become a spiritual movement of sorts. It generates new practices – or new rituals of self improvement such as daily affirmations – that can also influence the performance of traditional ceremonies.

With these new, individual-centered rituals, focusing on the present life rather than the hereafter, it is not surprising that many Swedes are buried without any ceremony. There are often requests for the ashes to be spread in places that the deceased had been connected to, like the sea.

In many of these cases, the deceased had requested such a burial – sometimes because they didn't want to create extra work for their relatives. In other cases, it is a financial decision, or the relatives could not agree on what ceremony ought to be used. Sometimes there are no relatives – Sweden has the highest number of people living alone in the world.

But how likely is it that this type of funeral will become standard practice – in Sweden or elsewhere? It's probably unlikely to happen anytime soon. Many mourners feel the need to mark the end of a life somehow – something that fits with individualism, too. That said, it is likely that non-religious funerals and private ceremonies will become more common than traditional funerals in increasingly secular countries in the years to come.

Research has also shown that the internet is offering a new way of mourning, giving eternal life to the dead via Facebook for example. This enables others to send birthday greetings or share memories of the dead on the day they died – a sort of ceremony.

It is clear that in spite of secularization, modernity, and individualization, rituals are not disappearing, they are just changing forms and adapting to new contexts.

Article by Anne-Christine Hornborg, Professor Emerita of History of Religions, Lund University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.