Open source cellular is getting a commercial grade boost today, as Range Networks has unveiled the latest and greatest version of OpenBTS. Bringing modern wireless bandwidth to rural areas has always had its economic challenges, ones that the big carriers have lacked much incentive to fix. With version OpenBTS 4.0, Range hopes to take what has been an interesting concept into the mainstream, or at least within pinging distance of it.
The new version has already been field tested in St. Pierre & Miquelon, a tiny French territory off the coast of Newfoundland. It's not often a geography geek like me learns a new place, even if it only covers 93 square miles with a population of around 7,000.
OpenBTS is a software version of a wireless base station, allowing the construction of a GSM network from off the shelf components. Up until now it has mostly been used in the laboratory as a testbed and such. The new version irons out lots of the kinks and brings the system up to a commercial level with more capacity, better system management, better encryption, and multi-node network scaling.
While it's probably not going to replace the specialized vendor gear that drives core wireless networks any time soon, Range's systems based on OpenBTS have already found application in isolated communities where the economics for the usual sort of wireless network don't work, e.g. Antarctica and Papua New Guinea.
Might this sort of open source technology eventually shift the economics far enough for the big carriers to take notice closer to home? Well one thing it still lacks is LTE, but that's in the works.
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