Range Networks improving OpenBTS' commercial appeal

Range Networks' new engineering team has improved the firm's OpenBTS software with an aim toward taking the technology out of the lab and into the commercial world, according to company CEO Edward Kozel.

Edward Kozel Range Networks CEO

Kozel

OpenBTS 4.0 "is the first software release from what you might call 'the new company,'" Kozel told FierceWirelessTech in an interview.

Range Networks' open-source cellular technology relies upon a software-defined radio implementation of the GSM radio access network for voice service, presenting regular GSM handsets as virtual SIP endpoints to an IP-based core. The vendor is releasing WCDMA data capability in OpenBTS 4.0 and is developing LTE support, with the loose goal being to release that by year's end, Kozel said.

In addition, the new software release is focused on deployability, quality, stability and scalability as part of an effort to extend Range Networks' technology deeper into the service provider market, where it hopes to provide larger networks and mission-critical networks.

"For some people in our own company as well as a lot of people in the market, OpenBTS was a fun lab project. Frankly, we wanted to take it somewhere else. If it's really going to be successful, it needs to scale," Kozel said.

Kozel stressed that the company's focus remains on unserved and rural markets and said all of the software improvements will benefit that mission. He said Range Networks wants to serve larger numbers of customers and multiple remote villages and communities, rather than pursuing the sort of one-off deployments, such as its 2011 Burning Man network, for which the company first became known.

Expanded capacity is one of the notable changes to OpenBTS, which now supports more than 1,000 subscribers on a single node. In addition, a newly implemented JSON API enables mobile network operators to manage a set of base stations via the Web.

There is also now a built-in channel-scanning tool for transmission frequency selection when deploying systems. This can be particularly handy along national borders where allocated spectrum in one country may not be totally clean.

In addition, Range Networks is changing how it handles the open-source version of OpenBTS, with the open source and commercial versions of OpenBTS 4.0 being released concurrently. Going forward, the company will release the open-source version of its software first, which is a reverse from past practice when the commercial version was always released first.

"We will have more frequent public releases than we will commercial releases," Kozel said, noting that process copies Red Hat's release model. Kozel, a former Red Hat board member, added that these changes will enable the commercial version of OpenBTS to benefit from testing and innovation by the open-source community.

Range Networks also assigned a senior engineer, Michael Iedema, as a technical resource for the OpenBTS open-source community.

The latest generation of OpenBTS is shipping in Range Networks lab development kits and commercial base stations. It is also available to the OpenBTS community as a free download.

OpenBTS 4.0 is already being implemented by GlobalTel, which intends to serve the island and city of St. Pierre, located in the French territory of St. Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Kozel said Range Networks is also working with several other small service providers, which he declined to name.

Range Networks is funded by a group of investors that includes angel investors as well as institutional investors Omidyar Network and Gray Ghost Ventures.

For more:
- see this Range Networks release

Related articles:
Range Networks provides clarity on LTE future, aims for 2014 launch
Range Networks releases 3G upgrade, transceiver specs
Range Networks sets sights on beating larger vendors, targets rural market
Range Networks: Burning Man's open source cellular network touted for commercial rural use

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