Open source revolutized technology and networking but it's done almost nothing in cellular technology. That's because Boris Renski, co-founder of OpenStack and Kubernetes power Mirantis, explained, "cellular wireless is an oligopoly black box primarily due to historic government regulation." But, now that the FCC has opened up the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band, there's room for new open-source based companies to offer 4G LTE and eventually 5G voice and data. Renski will be one of its pioneers.
Before going into his plans, you should know that CBRS, which is being marketed as OnGo, has nothing to do with Smokey and the Bandit style CB radios. Citizen Band radios, like my dad used and truckers still use today, use the 27Mhz spectrum. CBRS takes up 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band. In practical terms that means CBRS will have about four times the range and coverage area of Wi-Fi or 5G millimeter wave (mmWave).
The important business change is, as Renski explained, "The new model has many exciting things to geek over, but the most impactful ramification is that it destroys the biggest barrier to competition and innovation in the cellular wireless space — access to clean wireless spectrum. The price of an entry ticket to build a cellular network just changed from 'millions of dollars and years of FCC paperwork' to 'zero dollars and a single API call.'"
So, along with some developers from Facebook Connectivity, he's working on an open-source Evolved Packet Core (EPC). This is, in brief, a 4G LTE take on Software Defined Network (SDN). There are also some open-source programs that address the backend needs for an open-source cellular network. These are OpenRAN and Magma. His new cellular company is called FreedomFi.
With API-driven, on-demand licensing of 5G-ready spectrum, Renski thinks "the floodgates for open source innovation in cellular wireless have finally opened." Starting soon, "any enterprise can build a Private LTE network at the economics of Wi-Fi, yet superior range and reliability of LTE. Redefining cellular wireless and making 5G happen with open source is the next big frontier. I want to be a part of that movement and, just maybe, 10 years from now we'll see Ericsson and Huawei going all in on open source 5G."
If that sounds crazy, Renski would like to remind you that ten years ago no one saw VMWare going all in on open source either. Today, VMWare is all in on open-source Kubernetes. His first company, Mirantis, became first a major OpenStack powerhouse, then a top Kubernetes player, and recently acquired Docker. He has an impressive track record.
In an interview, Renski added that while "Mirantis will always remain my baby and I will continue to stay involved on a number of fronts," he plans on being dedicated to building FreedomFi. He sees CBRS as a:
...unique opportunity to replay Mirantis' open source private cloud playbook to create an open source Private LTE company. I believe that just like with the early days of private cloud, the PrivateLTE space is going to be defined by a whole lot of experimentation in the next 2 years. At Mirantis, our winning strategy was to avoid rushing to market with a pre-packaged commercial product, but instead partner with the experimenters in the private cloud space. The plan with FreedomFi is to co-innovate with the early adopters in Private LTE and, through open source, enable them to co-own the byproducts of this innovation. We want to be able to closely partner with other vendors and adopters of Private LTE and help move the whole industry forward. I don't think anybody knows how to do it right when it comes to PrivateLTE, so instead of pretending and saying "we know; do it our way" we are openly admitting that the industry as a whole has a lot to learn and we want to help accelerate that learning process. Mirantis was a pure play OpenStack services company during its initial stages; FreedomFi is a pure play PrivateLTE services company today.
Renski is funding FreedomFi out of his own pocket. Just as with Mirantis, the next round of funding will come from its first customers instead of venture funds. It's a challenge, but he is right. This is a unique opportunity to use open-source to revolutionize a new mass market: Free and open cellular network. This could be huge.