Instructables
Picture of Make your own cellphone from scratch.
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The DIY Cellphone is a working (albeit basic) cellphone that you can make yourself. It can make and receive phone calls and text messages, store names and phone numbers, display the time, and serve as an alarm clock. It connects to GSM networks (like AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S.) using a regular (full-size) SIM card. It builds on the hardware and software in the Arduino GSM Shield but extends it with a full interface, including display, buttons, speaker, microphone, etc. The phone is made up of a custom electronic printed circuit board (PCB), about 60 electronic components, and a laser-cut enclosure. Its hardware and software are open-source and available on GitHub (hardware, software).

Part of my motivation for making the phone -- and helping others to do the same -- is the fact that while cellphones are ubiquitous in our society, most of us have little idea what they're made of or how they work. In fact, you can make a cellphone in much the same way you'd make anything else: find the right parts, figure out how to connect them together, and try to do it in a way that's attractive and robust. Because of the ubiquity of cellphones, there are companies making the components they're made of; with some digging, I was able to find versions of these parts that are possible to buy in small quantities and that are possible to assemble by hand. This wasn't necessarily easy, but it's a very different problem than trying to learn the physics needed to understand how a cellphone tower works. 

I've been using various versions of this phone as my primary device for almost a year and have taught workshops in which others have made the phone for themselves. It doesn't require any specific knowledge of electronics, but it does involve configuring software, soldering a lot of small components, and laser-cutting, all of which can be difficult if you haven't done them before. I'd only recommend this project if you already have some experience with Arduino and soldering, or can find someone to help you out. You'll also need to get access to a laser-cutter, or find an alternative way to make the enclosure for the phone.
 
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quintinm12 days ago

Oh hell yea this is pretty impressive

kedwa301 month ago

This is great! I'm wondering how I might modify this design to include a full qwerty keyboard. My mom and dad mostly text and they want a full qwerty keyboard that is larger than, say, the Pantech P6020. I haven't been able to find one, so now I'm actually considering building it myself. If all it does is text and basic phone then that is great. I particularly don't want internet. The handset can have a cord to a SLA battery, since my mom would keep it in her purse. It is important to have a clam shell design so as to completely avoid pocket/purse dialing. The phone might be locked with a key combination, but then when a text comes in, the touch screen on my P6020 becomes active and does all sorts of mischief in my pocket. I definitely do not want a touch screen on my next phone. So basically if I can figure out how to modify this to use a full QWERTY and to have a clamshell cover, it will be perfect for my mom, my dad, and myself.

BR1042261 month ago

This is is Awesome!

nfarrow5 months ago

This is really cool could you make a waterproof cell?

stangeman6 months ago

Have you done any power measurements while transmitting/receiving and while idle? I'm interested in knowing how low power can go on this module.

From the Quectel Datasheet below, but wondering what power your system actually requires:


Compliant to GSM Phase 2/2+

Class 4 (2W @ 850/ 900 MHz)

Class 1(1W @ 1800/1900MHz)




Supply Voltage Range

3.3~4.6V 4.0V nominal



Low Power Consumption

1.3mA @ DRX=5

1.2mA @ DRX=9
momsnacher7 months ago
are you going to knock him because he didnt make the battry out of lemons or something. this looks like a fun weekend project as most of them on this site are. i like the wood case too. you could go to a flooring place and pick up a few hardwood samples for free to make a fancier case next time.
kelseymh9 months ago
What a cool project! Every few months, we've been getting somebody posting "how can I build my own cell phone?" and now we can point them toward an answer :-)

From Step 1, it sounds like the whole device costs about $200 in parts; is that accurate? If so, it seems to me this is a good demonstration of one of the pitfalls of DIY fabrication of otherwise consumer goods: there is no economy of scale.

I know from my own work (experimental particle physics), that the setup cost to have PCBs fabricated is quite high -- a run of 200 sometimes costs less than a run of 5 because the company charges a premium for the teardown time. The big components are also pricier in lots of 1 than they are (per unit) in lots of 1,000.

Do you think that something like this, made in larger volumes as a kit, could compete with basic cell phones in cost? I'm picturing the case being either vacuum formed or injection molded plastic. The components could still be soldered on by the end user (rather than a prefab board). I wonder if skipping the assembly process, while keeping the economy of bulk purchase of components, could beat out the factories.
Boards cost less in bulk if you are having your own design made. Here's why.
Setup / tooling cost is lets say $75.
Lets say each board then costs about $2 each to produce.
1 board costs $78
10 boards costs $95, or $9.50 each
100 boards costs $275, or $2.75 each
As quantities go up, the price will approach but never reach $2 each.

If some bright bulb with the cash to finance it in the first place were to buy up 100 or 1000 of everything needed to make complete kits, I am sure the cost would be quite reasonable and profitable for the seller (eventually).
I think if Radio Shack or The Source were to put a "build your own cell phone" kit on the shelves, it would be quite the hot ticket item!
Yes, the tooling/setup is a fixed cost, but I was alluding to an even stranger result. We had a company do a bid for us: for five boards (multiple layers), they were charging $400. For 50 boards, they bid $350. Apparently, they were charging an extra premium, on top of the basic tooling cost, for the short custom run.

We wanted the five board run first, in order to do prototype testing before ordering the final version. We ended up contracting with them to provide two boards after the tooling was set up, for us to run QA/QC before they did a full run of 50.
smaller companies may do this.
I have my boards fabricated in a very large place in Hong Kong where it's common that many small runs may be put into one run. IE - if 5 of one persons board, and 10 of mine and 15 of someone else's can fit onto a single sheet, they do that.
I always deal with the larger fabricators because many smaller houses can't handle how close my traces get to the very small VIAs, and as you have pointed out, they also may charge much more!
The place I deal with is extremely reasonable, and tooling for QTY1 and QTY100 are the same.
mellis (author)  kelseymh9 months ago
My sense is that PCB production continues to get cheaper, even (especially?) for small production runs. But you're right, it's difficult for this kind of DIY approach to compete with the price of a mass-produced product. I'm not sure the economics will ever catch up -- but I do think there's an opportunity to find forms and functions that aren't addressed by mainstream products. With the right design or approach, the additional cost might not be as much of a factor (or the cost may be much cheaper than the equivalent commercial product, if it's something that doesn't have a large market).
Zip1239 months ago
This is a very misleading article.

He is not "Making a Cell Phone from Scratch", he is simply embedding an off-the-shelf Cell Phone module!

And for those bleating about the legality, the Cell phone module he uses has its own approval certificates. Which of course is why he is using it!!!

Duh.
neffk Zip1239 months ago
System integration is legit. I think it's inspiring.

Maybe you could post a project.
Zip123 neffk9 months ago
Not much point commenting on what I DIDN"T say. I have no problem with the project, just the description.

And yes, I have posted hundreds of projects; Not here however..
neffk Zip1239 months ago
If you must criticize, start with a positive comment. For example, "Great project." It's the internet and this is just text. We don't know what you're thinking. Starting positive is part of being nice. In my experience, it's also good for the career, marriage, and friendships.

Scratch doesn't mean that he actually started with sand. Every project starts somewhere. Besides, most of us can't do the RF work or cost of agency testing for certification. So I'd say this project is as good as it can be for this audience.

My company builds complex devices that use certified modules all the time. It's usually a question of volume and risk.
Zip123 neffk9 months ago
...And when your company repackages certified modules, do you tell your client (and their lawyers) that you designed the product from scratch?

I admire the original article. It is a very good project. What I object to is Instructable's claim that it is about building a cellphone from scratch. It clearly isn't. Most of the technology iis hidden the the phone module.

Few non technical people understand that a mobile phone is basically a two-way radio with a fancy control system tacked on. Instructables has a duty to educate as well as entertain.



neffk Zip1239 months ago
We're working for money, not pride. And 'scratch' isn't really a technical term. Usually the conversation revolves around the number of units that the customer wants and the level of integration that's needed. Once those are defined, the work begins.

I don't distinguish between designs as much anymore. In the past, I thought the complicated stuff was somehow better and 'real engineering'. But now I see that engineering is more about delivering a project on-time, or controlling budget risk, or managing safety and health risks. Even if the device is simple, if those aspects are part of the requirements, I consider it 'real engineering'. Everything else is screwing around in the garage. Perhaps it's not a perfect definition but that's what I'm working with at this moment.

I'm still waiting for you to post some projects. Projects are credibility here.
I agree somewhat to the "from scratch" point - but if we want to get technical, almost NOTHING in the tech area is built from scratch because we'd have to build the chips we use in anything from discrete transistors - oh but wait, it's still not from scratch, because we didn't make the transistors!
OK, I'd be a bigger advocate of the project if we were able to make our own circuit boards. It might be cool too if someone posted a 3D printed shell for it.
I'm thinking about getting one of the boards so I can reverse engineer it and make cheaper ones, as long as it's only 2 layers. So my question is, is it only 2 layers, or can you tell?
neffk Zip1239 months ago
If you've posted hundreds of projects, post a link. This is the internet and links are the currency of credibility. I'm sure people on this site would be happy to see your work, even if it's posted elsewhere.
i cant order these things... can you give me the parts list of everything i means everything so i can get it from my local place?????? plz reply fast
Non8 months ago
Does it run apps from iTunes and/or Android?
cgrrty9 months ago
Laser-cut is very cool.How much ?
fahadshihab9 months ago
It's good to know that you are a co-founder of Arduino and common sense says that you will be involved in the manufacturing of the GSM shield. So, you know about this stuff.
I will be happy if you could tell me the mechanism behind this GSM stuff.
roboguy889 months ago
Would this phone work in Australia? Has anyone tried?
bhvm9 months ago
So much for the Gold Plated iPhone and such junk.
THIS is what i call truly premium, Upmarket and Unique gem!
keep it up!
jleslie39 months ago
So, um... Not to be a bummer, but how does the every day DIY'er get hands on time with a 3D printer or a laser cutter? I mean, are there service shops or colleges that might offer such access?
skaar jleslie39 months ago
you can modify the artwork, so, drill through the front, instead of making fancy button cuts, little dowel caps perhaps to extend the switches, or buy switches with longer buttons. the display hole can be done by drilling the corners and using a micro saw, file the corners.
susan_k jleslie39 months ago
You might not think it but check your local library. I can't see from your profile where you live, but my jaw totally dropped when I visited mine to learn there was not one but FIVE 3D printers (3 different types) plus laser and vinyl cutters available for public use. All you needed to do was have a (free) library card.
thormj susan_k9 months ago
Wow. Where is that so it can be at the top of my "places to move to" list?
sschoemann thormj9 months ago
remember you DO have to pay for supplies used, but this is becoming more common.
actually, yes their are, and you can even purchase 3d printers online through Radio Shack
mellis (author)  jleslie39 months ago
Shapeways in great for 3D-printing. Ponoko is a website that's good for laser-cutting, and offers 3d-printing as well.
Thank you all for the suggestions! I was with jleslie3, I had no idea where to turn if I needed some custom pieces crafted.
Lindie jleslie39 months ago
shapeways.com
chrwei jleslie39 months ago
there are also online service like shapeways and ponko if you don't have a local maker/hacker space or techshop.
Your local Maker Space or Hacker Space. Thats where I first used a Laser Cutter and 3D Printer. Some colleges have public access to those kinds of machines as well. You'll be surprised at how common laser cutters are in your given area.
rimfire139 months ago
Wow. That's awesome. One suggestion though would be to flip the vector image that you laser cut so that when it's all cut out you can use the bottom side that wouldn't have the brown burned edges, or even better make it from acrylic so you could show off all your hard work. Awesome instruct able though!
skaar rimfire139 months ago
those aren't burns, they're shadows... the light from the display shows no burns on the edges, the lines around the buttons are slits, so the buttons can be pushed, least, that's what it looks like to me.
darman129 months ago
This is a fantastic project! It brings us back to the simple times I suppose. Just as simple, but not as durable as a Nokia, haha!
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