Range Networks: Open Source Cellular Networks

Range Networks formally introduced today its executive management team to deliver a complete open source software version of the cellular system. Range Networks says it is the world’s leading provider of American-made commercial open source cellular systems and is slashing the cost to own and operate mobile networks.

Range can build the core of a cellular network for less than $100,000, compared to about $350,000 for gear from the major mobile equipment vendors. The cost of setting up each base station is about $30,000 to $40,000, compared to about $100,000 with conventional technology, according to CEO David Burgess.

One way OpenBTS cuts costs is by combining the functions of a base station and of some other specialized devices that handle traffic on a conventional cellular network. Range puts the software for all those elements on the base station and uses a standard IP core network to handle the calls from there.

Their Snap Network features a pole-mountable small base station that enables rapid cellular network deployment in hard-to-reach geographies and emergency response scenarios.

Their products use the OpenBTS Project, an open source software defined radio implementation of the GSM radio access network. It’s the only open source implementation of GSM/UMTS.

Since 2008, David Burgess, co-founder and CEO of Range Networks and Harvind Samra, co-founder and vice president of engineering, worked together to develop OpenBTS It presents normal GSM handsets as virtual SIP endpoints. Through this collaboration, Range Networks has developed a unique American-made solution for trustworthy cellular networks.

With OpenBTS, an ordinary cellular handset is transformed into a SIP endpoint in a VoIP system.

All Range Network products are designed to work as a single-site network or as part of a multi-site network. Through their partnership with SS7Ware, products support roaming and SS7 interconnect, a set of telephony signaling protocols which are used to set up most of the world’s public switched telephone network telephone calls.

The combination of the ubiquitous GSM air interface with VoIP backhaul, forms the basis of a new kind of cellular network. Range Networks says it can be installed and operated at about 1/10 the cost of current technologies.

At the 2011 Burning Man festival, the OpenBTS project set up a 3-site network with VSAT gateway and worked in conjunction with the Voice over IP services company Voxeo to provide much of the off-site call routing.

“There are at least a billion people in the world today without access to telephone service of any kind because they cannot be served cost-effectively with existing technologies,” said Burgess.

And open-source cell phone network could cut costs to $2 per month and it costs about one-tenth as much to build as traditional networks, say OpenBTS supporters.

“Our executive management team is focused on delivering a solution that provides rural communities, remote outposts and emergency responders with the power and flexibility of a fully integrated cellular system, built on open source software that drastically reduces implementation and maintenance costs,” according to Burgess

According to OpenBTS Background, the primary motivation for starting this project was a vision of truly universal telephone service.

It was developed after several years of experience with GSM, software radios, VoIP, and sustainable power systems.

The Village Basestation implements low powered software defined electronics, says open BaseStation developer Kurtis Heimerl. Pricing would be disruptive for existing carriers, so the target is emerging markets. WiFi range is far too short for mobile coverage in rural areas. A single WiFi tower is not going to cover 700 square miles, but that’s what GSM was made to do.

Financed with a $2 million State Department grant, the Internet in a Suitcase project could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow mesh-networked WiFi nodes over a wide area with a link to the global Internet.

The 600 MHz band could be truly transformative, but the economic disruption could be problematic for carriers who are used to 50% profit margins and spectrum control.

I would argue that Republicans in Congress prefer that taxpayers pay for a $25 Billion FirstNet system at 700 MHz rather than unleash the consumer electronic industry to deliver cheaper/faster/better, universal broadband at 600 MHz.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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