This idea is related to some of the ideas presented in Peer to Peer Mobilage(see Link)
I propose a new feature for cell phones that would allow for private local communications as well as emergency communication in areas outside of normal cell network range.
This feature would work exactly like
a normal cell phone in its usage except that it would utilize a direct phone to phone connection kind of like an FRS radio. However this system would be different from FRS in that communication is not broadcast for general access but rather is direct Phone to Phone.
Phones would switch into this mode any time they are out of range of the network(or have spotty service) and would allow you to call numbers that are within range of your phone(ie enter number you want to call, if no network then phone will pole other phones in range to determine if any of them is the phone that was requested, if it is then it will connect. It might also poll phones in the area and highlight any numbers in your contact list that happen to be in range)
Since cell phones utilize a much higher range radio band than the FRS system, range should be greatly improved. This feature would only operate outside of the range of a normal cell network, or when signal is very intermittent(this to allow the network providers to maintain control within established network range, also phone could be programmed to track any usage while off network and then transmit this data upon returning to the network for billing and usage purposes).
Further benefits of this system would be the ability to broadcast an emergency beacon which would connect with any phones within range and transmit its location(via the existing onboard GPS) and user information. The recieving phone would do two things, first it would display a text message of the phone number that was recieved to its owner and it would re-transmit the beacon signal to any other phones in range or to any cell tower in range. If no phones or towers are in range then the phone will wait until it is in range then transmit the signal which would be forwarded to emergency services who could then find and rescue you.
This feature would be a boon to people traveling in a group outside of network access as well as hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Though many will point out that Nextel and other radio type phones already do this it is my understanding that these phones still only operate when they are within range of the network. Once out of range they are useless.
I believe that all of the features I have described here could be accomplished through software programing alone and that no new hardware would be required to accomplish this task. If that is the case then such a feature could be "retrofitted" to any phone having the minimum capabilities needed to perform these tasks. Also this is less intended for people traveling in the north pole and more for use in populated areas where signal distribution is poor(like Upstate NY where I live with lots of valleys to block signals)