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27 February 2020

OpenSync ubiquity certain as TIP pushes WiFi interoperability

It was fitting that the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) should make its presence felt in the absence of Mobile World Congress 2020 this week. Founded by Facebook and a consortium of telcos at the Barcelona mobile show four years ago, TIP has celebrated its birthday by implementing OpenSync, the open source software best known for powering adaptive WiFi architectures – as co-created by Samsung and Plume Design.

The importance of WiFi to TIP was realized rather late in the day, only last year forming a dedicated project group designed to accelerate the development of WiFi technologies. TIP’s WiFi Infrastructure and Systems working group will use OpenSync in the software stacks of both TIP Access Point and the newer TIP Cloud SDK.

Ultimately, OpenSync and the TIP WiFi project have come together around the common goal of bringing an ecosystem-centric approach to the fore – reducing vendor lock-in and clearing the path for WiFi innovation.

WiFi is one small pillar within the TIP masterplan, which the diagram below visualizes as a multifaceted ecosystem comprising numerous wireless technologies among satellites, cellular towers, households and city skyscrapers, all interconnected as one. OpenSync’s role in this ecosystem is as the catalyst for interoperability.

OpenSync has already experienced explosive growth, reaching 15 million APs and devices today on which it manages more than half a billion clients, and the software is set to surge exponentially on the back of TIP’s more than 500 member companies. More importantly, these members span uncharted markets and verticals for OpenSync –prompting additional contributions in the areas of enterprise, service provider, small business and public WiFi via TIP’s open AP development. In addition, TIP will create test labs that will provide development, performance, interoperability and certification testing.

OpenSync will now be supported by multiple cloud vendors – expanding from the existing AP cloud management systems of Plume, Tanaza and ConnectUs Technologies. TIP’s Cloud SDK is designed to encourage additional cloud implementations.

Open-sourced in October 2018, OpenSync is Plume’s cloud-based virtualized agent for relieving bottlenecks when deploying new firmware for each new feature at scale. OpenSync is also Plume’s way of getting operators to ditch legacy management systems based on the Broadband Forum’s TR069 technical specification.

In the past, Faultline has voiced how being dominant in an open source sense cannot be celebrated in the same way as an operator rolling out the software across millions of devices and paying top dollar for it. Yet the raging endorsements of OpenSync (already used at Comcast, Bell Canada and most recently at Liberty Global) are as good as anything – and with TIP now behind the OpenSync wheel, ubiquity is virtually guaranteed.

Plume describes OpenSync as the first multi-industry, open service curation, delivery, management and support framework, but this is really just half the story. What is called OpenSync Target Layer is jostling for the same space on the same APs as the EasyMesh multi-AP standard from the WiFi Alliance. Since the industry has adopted EasyMesh at scale, Target Layer was of limited future use to Plume, which is why Plume decided to open source it.

Yet Plume today is much more than a provider of attractive WiFi extenders and intelligent cloud-based management capabilities, as the company has developed a monetization layer for operators. It wants to enable service providers to launch new services and applications at a faster rate and on a massive scale.

During a Faultline interview with Plume CEO Fahri Diner back in November 2018, he said, “Our overall architecture is independent of the underlying silicon platform. OpenSync has been implemented on various gateway and AP platforms, including Broadcom, Qualcomm and Quantenna SoCs. We can handle any number of radios and radio chains. More radios result in better performance via diversity and choice. Given that we have practically infinite compute resources through the cloud, we are not compute limited to handle the increased complexity of radios in X channels.”

Separately, ConnectUs Technologies, which provides professional services to integrate TIP open source software, announced interoperability between its own WiFi Cloud Modular Application Platform (CMAP) and a range of third-party APs running TIP’s Open AP software. ConnectUs was due to give demos at MWC in Barcelona this week and has promised to reschedule for a future event.

As for 5G, in the fledgling stages of network rollouts, there are some fully open source technologies influencing the mobile market, while TIP uses a combination of open source and Frand-based systems, but with far greater transparency than the traditional mechanisms. Operators such as Japan’s Rakuten are beginning to become more prominent in developing and trialing open RAN and are beginning with TIP OpenRAN (which is a separate group to ORAN).

Interestingly, when Vodafone issued an RFI (request for information) about 5G Open RAN, under the auspices of TIP, Samsung was the only vendor judged to be fully compliant. It is valuable for TIP’s progress and credibility that Vodafone, Telefonica, MTN and others are conducting field trials and discussing commercial roll-outs. Such moves increase confidence in an emerging platform while helping to make smaller vendors viable – widening the supply chain and boosting competition.