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Private Networks

Mirantis co-founder targets 5G 'oligopoly' with private networks startup FreedomFi

A new startup in the wireless industry has set its sights on nothing less than tearing down "the oligopoly of a few large players" by leveraging unlicensed spectrum and open source technology.

After all, "he who controls 5G, controls the universe," writes Mirantis Co-Founder and CMO Boris Renski.

Renski said he plans to leave Mirantis in order to spend the bulk of his time getting his new startup FreedomFi off the ground. The startup is targeting the market for private LTE networks in the US using the newly free 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band and equipment running open source software.

Importantly, Renski told ZDNet he is funding the effort out of his own pocket, and that the company's next round of financing would come from its customers instead of venture capital financiers.

That, Renski told the publication, is the same way he helped to develop Mirantis, which focuses on open source Kubernetes and DevOps cloud software for enterprises. Indeed, he explained that he's hoping FreedomFi follows the same developmental trajectory that Mirantis did, by focusing on open source software solutions for enterprise problems, and letting customers guide the development of its commercial products.

Grand ambitions
But in a lengthy post on Medium, Renski sought to position FreedomFi's efforts in a global, geopolitical context. "Protectionism isn't known to spur innovation. Banning Huawei or throwing money at incumbent vendors is unlikely to do the trick," he wrote, pointing to US government efforts to wall off China's Huawei from the global wireless marketplace and finance US alternatives to the supplier.

Renski also nodded to efforts within the wireless industry to move away from proprietary hardware and software and toward open source solutions, including Facebook Connectivity's Magma and the Telecom Infra Project, which just today announced a partnership with the O-RAN Alliance.

But Renski noted such efforts are in their early stages. "We don't see Ericsson going all-in on OpenRAN the way VMware has gone all in on Kubernetes," he noted.

The turning point, Renski explained, was the FCC's approval of commercial operations in the CBRS "innovation band." He said the action releases spectrum in the US from the "oligopoly black box" where licenses typically cost millions of dollars.

The CBRS band offers roughly 70MHz for unlicensed operations and another 70MHz for licensed operations, and it's widely viewed as ideal for 4G LTE and, eventually, 5G due to the propagation characteristics of signals in 3.5GHz spectrum.

"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," Renski wrote. "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.' "

Concluded Renski: "With API-driven, on-demand licensing of clean, 5G-ready spectrum becoming available to anybody in the US, the floodgates for open source innovation in cellular wireless have finally opened... Starting 2020, 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."

Another private LTE startup
To be clear, FreedomFi isn't the first company to target the intersection of private LTE and enterprise networks, though it is certainly the first to do so with globe-spanning, geopolitical rhetoric. Players in the private LTE space range from behemoths like Nokia to operators like Verizon to startups like Celona, which recently raised $10 million in financing.

For example, startup Federated Wireless earlier this month began selling 4G and 5G private wireless networking options to enterprises on the Microsoft Azure Marketplace and the Amazon AWS Marketplace.

Interest in private LTE networks is being driven by the growing amount of spectrum available for such operations and the falling cost of transmission equipment, coupled with a workforce increasingly demanding mobile access to their enterprise systems.

Already a wide and growing range of companies are investing in tests of private networks: Charter, Ford, UPS, Halliburton and the Pantex Plant in Texas, the nation's premier nuclear disassembly plant, have all expressed interest in the space.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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