Open Source Project Builds Mobile Networks Without Big Carriers

Steven Max Patterson | NetworkWorld | March 17, 2014

Data centers, mobile phones, and the software industry have all been changed by open source. Are mobile networks next?

Open source projects garner the attention of the tech community because the passionate people behind these developments occasionally cause major disruption and create opportunities to change industries, as Android and Linux did. An open source project with the goal of changing how mobile networks are built, from expensive proprietary hardware to cheap commodity hardware - just as mainframe data centers moved to commodity X86 hardware - is certainly worth a deeper look. Learning that former Cisco CTO Ed Kozel is leading the venture, Range Networks makes it worth a deep dive.

For now at least, Range Networks isn’t trying to compete with NSN, Ericsson, Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent. The company is looking for underserved areas that need a low-cost alternative to the big mobile network solutions designed for big mobile carriers. Range Networks’ OpenBTS has been used to build a temporary mobile network serving 1,200 people over a 10-square-kilometer area at the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Burning Man festivals, as well as permanent mobile networks in Antarctica and Papau Indonesia.

The core of Range Networks innovation is an open source OpenBTS 3G GSM stack and a software defined radio (SDR) covering the 700 Mhz to 2.5 Ghz bands. Range Networks has plans to add 4G and LTE, but in the meantime a visitor to Papau Indonesia, where there has never been mobile phone service, would have to feel extremely entitled to complain about slow 3G Facebook download speeds.