UK mobile network operator EE is partnering with open source technology firms Lime Micro and Canonical (the founders of Ubuntu) to launch a fully programmable network capability and change the way mobile networks are built in the future.
The solution is built on Surrey-based Lime’s ‘network in a box’ solution (pictured) which developers can configure by software to provide any wireless service, including 4G and Wi-Fi. The configuration software, available through the Snappy Ubuntu Core stores, will allow developers to create new applications and services for a mobile network.
EE will deploy the solutions created by this partnership as part of its work with the Telecom Infrastructure Project, with the first project committed to connect an area of the Scottish Highlands and Islands in 2016.
To bring together the best innovators in the UK and create a bespoke solution for the area, EE and Lime are providing the programmable development kit to the University of Highlands and Islands.
The Lime Micro programmable network in a box, LimeSDR, http://www.limeSDR.org will be available initially through a crowd funding campaign launching later this month and will allow developers to pre-order the LimeSDR boards at a low cost.
The solution is a low cost, app-enabled software defined radio (SDR) base station that can be programmed to support any type of wireless standard – putting significant power at the disposal of anyone who wants to innovate in the world of wireless.
Professor Clive Mulholland, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: “We are excited to be working with EE to explore the opportunities this development can offer to the university and the communities we serve.
“The technology could be particularly relevant to our work in remote and rural health and digital innovation. As a regional university, we aim to have a transformational impact on the Highlands and Islands so we welcome any initiatives which have the potential to benefit our area.”
Mansoor Hanif, Director of Radio Networks at EE, said: “Apps and smartphones revolutionised the mobile experience and this could have the same impact on the network – we’re allowing anyone to build an app that can introduce a new service or a new 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. This type of innovation is vital to evolving wireless networks, and we’re making sure that the UK is at the forefront of that.”
Ebrahim Bushehri, CEO of Lime Micro, commented: “We are delighted to be working with EE to bring our Radio Access Network solution to remote areas of the UK, and to start on a journey that will change how mobile networks are built, and who drives the innovation in this industry. We’re committed to making low cost open source hardware that is easy to access and program, to achieve the goal of universal wireless connectivity.”
Maarten Ectors, VP of IoT at Canonical, said: "We see the collaboration between EE, Lime Micro and Canonical as a game changer for the telecom industry and wireless communication in general."
The move can be seen in the context of EE’s obligation under its Emergency Services Network (ESN) contract to widen its 4G geographic coverage to meet the terms of the deal. The emergency services have much more stringent network performance SLAs than normal consumer mobile network and ESN has committed to matching the coverage of the current emergency services network provided by Airwave – i.e. over 99% of the UK landmass.
It also follows EE’s announcement earlier this week (25 April 2016) that it is committed to providing 4G coverage to 95% of the UK landmass by 2020. EE is studying a variety of ideas for how it can provide coverage for ESN in more remote areas of the UK, or to provide temporary backup coverage if the main network is affected by flooding, for example.
Photo courtesy of Fairwaves Inc.