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EE open sources rural network coverage problem

Mobile operator EE enlists Lime Micro and Ubuntu founder Canonical to help develop open source network capabilities and services for rural areas

EE has teamed up with Lime Micro and Ubuntu founders Canonical to deploy open source software-defined networking (SDN) technology in support of developing network capabilities and services and addressing rural coverage gaps.

The fully programmable network capability is based on Lime’s network-in-a-box system LimeSDR, which was launched earlier in 2016.

LimeSDR was designed to be a flexible and low-cost alternative to traditional mobile base stations. It lets users configure it to provide any wireless service, such as 4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as develop applications and services for the network.

EE plans to deploy the systems that will be created through its work with the Telecom Infrastructure Project, which is aiming to connect remote areas of Scotland to mobile networks

To kick-start the process, it has supplied the programmable development kit to the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness.

“The technology could be particularly relevant to our work in remote and rural health and digital innovation,” said the university’s principal and vice-chancellor Clive Mulholland.

“As a regional university, we aim to have a transformational impact on the Highlands and Islands, so we welcome any initiatives that have the potential to benefit our area.”

For all other interested developers, the LimeSDR will be made available through a crowd-funding campaign that will let them pre-order boards at a low cost.

EE director of radio networks Mansoor Hanif said that, just as apps have revolutionised the wider mobile experience, they could also have a similar effect on the inner workings of the network itself.

“We’re allowing anyone to build an app that can introduce a service or a capability to a mobile network. That could be to connect a rural area of the UK for the first time, or to be part of designing how 5G works,” he said.

Arduino for telecoms

Billed as ‘Arduino for telco engineers’, LimeSDR was developed to help operators respond to over-the-top (OTT) services players such as Facebook and Google and, at the same time, help them invest in larger and faster networks more easily.

“Radio access technology has been the bottleneck in the implementation of programmable and cost-effective networks. The wireless industry is poised for a significant change in favour of operators who now have the option to universally and economically deploy networks based on open source hardware,” said Lime Micro CEO Ebrahim Bushehri.

“Our partnership with Canonical signifies a major step in ensuring the contribution of like-minded developers to provide applications for feature reach networks of the future.”

“Traditional telecom equipment suppliers are making mobile base stations as proprietary as possible. This is good for their margins,” said Maarten Ectors, vice-president of IoT and next-generation networking at Canonical.

“Telecom operators, however, need lower costs, more innovation, faster time to market, interoperability, manageability and new revenues. Open source and app-enablement are the solution,” he added.

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