"The Chinese would have a lot less trouble in the U.S. if they would just release their source code," David Burgess told me over breakfast in the quiet Palm Court restaurant near Washington, D.C. "But they can't do that," he said, explaining that if cellular equipment provider Huawei were to release their source code, they'd also be releasing a lot of secrets.
"That's why we're launching our equipment as open source," Burgess said. Burgess is CEO of Range Networks, which manufactures the infrastructure equipment that actually runs cell phone networks. "Carriers don't have to worry about what might be in our source code," he said. "They can just look at it."
Range Networks already has several prototype cell networks using open source software up and running in the United States and elsewhere. The identity of the carriers working with Range Networks on operating the open source cell networks will be announced when the product officially starts selling on May 13. Meanwhile, all Burgess would tell me was that the cell network using the Range Networks equipment was "in the Great Plains area."
Range Networks uses its own open source radio access network (RAN), a part of a cellular network that actually communicates with handsets. The company works with partner SS7Ware, which provides the HLR (home location register) equipment and software. The SS7Ware hardware and software are also open source and run on industry-standard server platforms. The RAN and the HLR interface with OpenBTS, the Unix-based application that presents the GSM interface to the cell phones working on the cell network. Burgess is co-inventor of OpenBTS,
The standards-based approach continues with the carrier-grade voice over IP (VoIP) telephone network that uses the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). The network uses standard SS7 signaling protocol and is completely interoperable with the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and with other cellular networks. This means that a carrier can drop a Range Networks cellular implementation into their existing network without having to change anything else.
With the announcement of the Range Networks cellular network products, carriers now have an option for relatively affordable carrier-grade infrastructure that's not made in China. This could mean, for example, that whatever company emerges from Sprint multi-partner acquisition chaos won't have to buy Huawei switches and networking products to keep costs down. Sprint can just use gear from Range Networks and SS7Ware.