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Open source cellular targets rural comms

Linux and Asterisk for cellular networks

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Start-up RangeNetworks is hoping that the combination of low cost and transparent software will allow it to break into the notoriously locked-down cellular network market.

Mobile network infrastructure is traditionally the preserve either of either established vendors (think Ericsson or Alcatel-Lucent), or well-backed new entrants like Huawei. Rather than try to pitch itself into the large, complex world of urban mobile networks, Range is looking for smaller-scale targets like rural and remote networks.

In markets like the USA, that means the company can skip trying to win business among the large incumbents, and instead look for customers among the rural “franchisees” that often serve markets that the national-scale carriers find uneconomic.

RangeNetworks founder and CEO David Burgess told The Register that capex and complexity are the enemies of small-scale cellular operators, particularly where subscriber density is low. The company claims its Snap system, which can serve 400 subscribers, is one-tenth the capex of a traditional vendor's base station.

It's also low power – at 35 watts, it's suitable for remote solar or small-scale wind power – and uses IP backhaul.

For non-traditional operators, Burgess said, there should also be advantages in staffing and training, with RangeNetworks using Asterisk-based VoIP rather than circuit-based systems to deliver voice services. As a result, he said, “the systems are manageable by people who know Linux and IP networking. They don't need the kind of specialised training the older SS7 systems do.”

The company has partnered with the open source outfit SS7Ware for the home location register equipment and software, and both RangeNetworks' radio access network and SS7Ware's HLR have interfaces to OpenBTS. OpenBTS, of which Burgess is a co-inventor, provides an open source gateway between GSM and a SIP-based softswitch.

RangeNetworks has reference customers in Papua, Zambia and Antarctica, and Burgess says a key focus for the next year will be to secure high-end reference customers.

“An important strategic initiative will be to get a handful of normal-looking public cellular networks up and running, to provide services in a way that looks familiar to incumbent carriers,” he said. “We need a network that's installed on a long-term basis – more than six months – and serving at least a few hundred or a few thousand paying subscribers on a day-to-day basis.” ®

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