Open-Source Telecom: Fixing the inefficiency of the mobile industry

Here is my personal manifesto.

I believe that mobile/wireless industry is broken now — it lacks cooperation. Competition is a good thing, but cooperation is no less important. Without cooperation companies throw millions of $$$ to re-implement the wheel instead of implementing what's important for a customer. And I believe open-source is a great (the only?) way to fix this. Personally, I love open-source exactly for this reason — it improves cooperation and cuts inefficiency. I can't say how much I hate inefficiency, I can't stand duplicated efforts which do not lead to innovation.

What we do in Fairwaves and why we participate in OpenBTS, OpenBSC and OsmocomBB projects — we want to create the last implementation of GSM, after which no one needs to do it again. It's been done at least ten times through the history of mobile communications. Bit by bit, message by message companies implemented the whole GSM stack, wasting money on duplicated effort. With projects like OpenBTS, OpenBSC and OsmocomBB you no longer have to waste money. You could write your own stack if you want, but there is an abyss of freedom between «have to» and «want to».

To our misfortune, the same inefficiency has happened with 3G/UMTS and WiMAX and is now happening with LTE. But it's never too late to change — e.g. we could save billions of $$$ for the industry by having an open-source LTE/LTE-Advanced stack. That's the money which could be spent on improving user's experience (our experience!) instead of funding the competition of whose LTE is less crappy.

Industry must be user-oriented. Users do not care what's under the hood, they only care about usability, stability and price. A good way to improve those things is to stop spending money on essential, but non-differentiating features, and start spending them on what actually matters. And do not forget that corporate genetics is a much stronger differentiator then underlying technology. You can't create iPhone without being Apple, create Android without being Google or create Blackberry without being RIM.

Wait, but what about cloners? Workaholic Chinese guys, making an exact copy of your product is the story which scares to death executives and investors of many companies. Fear is the mind-killer and people tend to think about this issue with their fear instead of their mind. The issue with cloning gained a lot of attention during the past few years with the rise of the OSHW (Open-Source Hardware), because OSHW products have no (technical) barriers to cloning — you can find all kinds of discussions on the Internet about this topic. Here is my way of how to think about cloning consciously, without fear:

  • Cloning in inevitable. If you product is popular, it will be cloned. Period. Proprietary hardware and software won't stop this.
  • Clones make a market bigger and promote your product too — clone-buyers are not your customers (at least not yet). Clones usually have worse quality or cover a different market, i.e. work in a niche you're missing.
  • If cloners sell in your market at your price range, then you're missing something important and it's time to learn. They're not «cloners» anymore, BTW.
  • Cloners will make small improvements, optimizations and fixes which you could pull back into your product.
  • Successful products create communities — that's what makes business stable these days. Clones doesn't own a community.
  • Products compete at the user experience level, not at the core technology. I've mentioned this above.
  • Most money are made on a service level. Core technology is just a platform, an enabler for value-added services. Clones should bring more users to your services.

Result: for innovative companies cloners are not an issue, no matter whether they use open-source technology or not. At the same time, open-source and cooperation gives them the best way to be efficient and lean.

Above I mentioned companies like Apple, Google and RIM which are handset companies. But I expect that in this industry, infrastructure companies will be much more affected with the rise of open-source. Those mastodons grew when mobile/wireless infrastructure market was growing exponentially and cooperation wasn't necessary to be competitive — there were enough room for everyone. The times have changed and companies will be washed away if they don't change the way they compete and cooperate. Few people remember SunOS, HP-UX or AIX servers now — Linux replaced them. The same will happen with proprietary technology in the mobile/wireless industry, stay tuned.

That's the idea worth spreading. That's what I'm advocating in the Wireless Innovation Forum and all other places.


I was meaning to write this post for a long time. Many thanks to Anders Brownworth for giving me the link to Bret Victor — Inventing on Principle video. It's the best thought provoking talk I've seen recently and it inspired me to finally write down this manifesto.

3 мнения на “Open-Source Telecom: Fixing the inefficiency of the mobile industry

  1. YokeL

    Добрый день, а можно как то с вами пообщаться по поводу OpenBST через какие-нибудь месенджеры или мыло?

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