Closed Technologies have had the enough, the future is bound to be open. I can’t think of a stream where Open source has not contributed. In few of the relatively newer streams, like telecom, Open source is still catching up.
I had been into telecom for a long time now, and had often heard a complaint from Telecom startups and sometimes even giants about the cost to go to the market in rural/developing areas. A simple BTS (a.k.a Mobile antenna) could cost anywhere from thousands of dollars to millions (depending upon the capability 2.5G, 3G, 3.5G, 4G).
OpenBTS is one project that can change the game by bringing down costs.
Basically OpenBTS is a Base Transceiver System [BTS] with open source implementation of cellular interface for GSM using software that runs on open source hardware called USRP [Universal Software Radio Peripheral]. Using this, a cellphone interface can be achieved, just like any other GSM phone does.
On the network back-end, it is an Asterisk server. The system doesn’t have much to do with signalling susbsytems, at layer 3, GSM call control is very much like ISDN. What they have implemented is GSM air interface in layer 1, GSM air interface LAPDm in layer 2, and then in layer 3 is very much like ISDN SIP gateway.
The two things they support, right now, are speech: Q.931-type call control, and text messaging, SMS.
All that’s exposed to the BTS is the air interface, because of this all the complexity in the network is pretty much abstract. As the lead developer claims, “It’s not that complicated”. he says “Once you understand the specification, it’s not that complicated. We have had three people working on this project for about two years, well, for about eighteen months of actual programming. We started coding this stuff in August of 2007.” and finished in December 2009
The short-term goal of the project is to find a sponsor for a pilot deployment in a rural area, in the developing world. They are trying to get one in Africa, in India, and in Central America. Because it can be deployed and operated at much lower costs, you have the potential to push the cost of service down to $1 a month range.
The plan looks good, all we have to see is how fast the adoption is. The project is willing to learn from your experiences on the platform. Yes, at this time it’s pretty much 2G [with no packet or even circuit switched data] but it ain’t bad for a new idea, new open project.
On the other note, from what we have seen in the past — GSM is very much hackable and having a new Open source project that can replace GSM with a more secured System could make more sense.