Range Networks provides clarity on LTE future, aims for 2014 launch

Network infrastructure startup Range Networks aims to have an LTE product in the market this year, if not in general availability at least in a widespread beta, according to CEO Ed Kozel.

The company had previously said it aimed to have an LTE product out in 2014, but Kozel provided more color and details on the company's plans in an interview with FierceWirelessTech. Kozel, who had been an advisor to Range in 2012, was just formally named CEO of the company.

Kozel is a former Red Hat board member and spent 12 years at Cisco Systems, where he served as CTO, senior vice president of business development and as a board member. Most recently, Kozel was chief technology and innovation officer with Deutsche Telekom in Germany.

Kozel said the company had a one-quarter setback last year when former CEO David Burgess left the company for personal reasons. Kozel said "a lot of my work has been to get everything back on the roadmap, and then to revisit the strategic roadmap, and then finally to bring in some more money and get things going faster." He said the goal for the company in 2014 is to double its revenues from 2013, which he said would still mean the "single-digit millions" of dollars.

Range Networks' cellular systems are targeted at low-cost rural wireless deployments, both private and public. They are based on OpenBTS, its open-source, software-defined radio implementation of the GSM radio access network that presents normal GSM handsets as virtual SIP endpoints to an IP-based core.

In November the vendor initiated a controlled release--for early adopters and telecom test labs--of a commercial WCDMA software upgrade for its OpenBTS software, which previously supported only 2G and 2.5G connectivity. The new OpenBTS-UMTS enables data throughput of 384 kbps per user on 3G-enabled handsets. The upgraded network is 3GPP-compliant and operates on any 3GPP-defined WCDMA frequencies. It also supports network and handset authentication. The WCDMA release is still in beta testing, Kozel said.

Kozel said that for LTE the company needs to develop a new radio, and that the radios it currently is using are fine for 2G and 3G networks, but don't have enough throughput for LTE. Range is both developing its radios in-house and working with others, he said.

"Our goal is to accelerate the commoditization of mobile infrastructure hardware, everything from the package to the CPU and radio," he said. "We want to encourage lots of people to make the various components. We want to be the software supplier. We do not see ourselves as a long-term system company."

In the future, he said, smaller customers such as a university or small operator might continue to buy whole systems from Range as a finished product, but larger operator customers likely would not. They can get high gross margins on using or making their own hardware, he said. "I want the high-volume support business," Kozel added.

The Range Networks chief said the company has decided to bypass support for HSPA because most operators believe the future is trending toward LTE networks with small 2G networks kept on for roaming and other functions, and because HSPA is "neither fish nor fowl" in that it is not purely for voice or data.

In Africa, for example, where many operators are just starting to deploy LTE, "they will tell you clearly they don't plan on having 3G for very long," Kozel said. 

In terms of customers, Kozel said that some customers want to use Open BTS for coverage in rural areas. A small segment of others wants to keep using proprietary communication, but move from GSM to LTE and have apps for smartphones. These are often companies in mining or resource extraction.

A third customer segment involves companies taking open-source software and applying it in different ways. For example, a  company in Iceland called Rögg is using OpenBTS  to find people on rescue missions who are lost in areas that are out of normal mobile coverage. Range Networks provided search teams with a portable GSM simulator to quickly locate people and Rögg built software to calculate the distance from the located cell phone, oftentimes triangulating the position in a single pass. The handset can be located from up to 21 miles away, Range said.

"We think, over time, if we reshape the software into more of a platform and make it easier for people to access their services and develop new services, then we'll see some more interesting applications emerge," Kozel said.

Kozel said Range is also working with Tier 3 service provider customers outside of the U.S. but he could not name them. One is a CDMA operator interested in converting over to GSM. 

In the U.S. federal sector, Kozel said Range is working with several agencies, though none that he could name. "It's actually a very broad mix of applications, from mundane to complex," he said.

For more:
- see this Range Networks release

Special Report: Range Networks- network infrastructure- wireless startups- Fierce 15 2013

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