OpenAirX-Labs Aims to Boost 5G Innovation Via Open Source

A partnership among industry, the National Science Foundation and US Ignite has formed the OpenAirX-Labs to grow the development and testing of open source 5G software to increase innovation in wireless technology.

A 5G Box on a cell tower.
Researchers exploring telecom innovation have a new tool at their disposal with the launch of OpenAirX-Labs (OAX), a partnership among private industry and the National Science Foundation to develop open source 5G communication software.

OAX is part of the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) project, a public-private partnership supporting wireless research through large, outdoor wireless testbeds throughout the United States. The effort is co-led by Northeastern University and US Ignite, a nonprofit charged with growing smart city projects and technologies.

The project will function as a space for developing telecom innovation through the use of open source 5G software to enable more in-depth research by academics and others operating outside of the traditional telecom ecosystem.

The hope is that the undertaking will support and enable a trend in communications development that has become more software-focused, and less centralized in a telecom lab, said Mari Silbey, senior director of partnerships and outreach at US Ignite.

“As things are moving towards more software operations, then it becomes easier to pick out different parts and functions of the network and focus on development in individual areas,” she explained.

“As that’s starting to happen, the other parallel piece that’s happening is the ability to use equipment, just standard off-the-shelf commercial equipment, that doesn’t require this proprietary software stack,” said Silbey.

Non-proprietary, open source software is more accessible and more modular, smoothing the road to innovation, allowing researchers to tinker with certain aspects of it, developing solutions for individual use cases, PAWR officials explained.

“The goal around people wanting to do ultra-low latency applications, high bandwidth, high capacity applications, tactical edge applications, network slicing for differentiated service, this all sort of starts to emanate out once you actually have a core, stable software platform,” said Abhimanyu (Manu) Gosain, senior technical program director for the PAWR project. “And then you can build and implement these layers on top. Again, building on that modularity, extensibility of the software.”

The OpenAirX-Labs will function as the home of the OpenAirInterface (OAI) Software Alliance, a development community dedicated toward end-to-end open source 5G software. The purpose of the Labs and the Alliance is to accelerate the development of open, fully stable, end-to-end 5G software, available to developers outside of the traditional telecom labs.

“In the short term, the ability to have a fully open source software stack as we move into 5G gives players who would not have been a part of inside carrier — inside carrier labs — or inside a Nokia or Ericsson, for example, the ability to use open source software that’s readily accessible and supported by the large open source community, and combine that with off-the-shelf hardware,” said Silbey.

This development “lets more people tinker with how things work and how things might be optimized, and how things might be used for future applications,” she added.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.
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