An Update from the OpenCellular Project Group

Since our last update at Mobile World Congress Americas in September, the OpenCellular project group has achieved several major milestones. We’re excited to share the following updates at TIP Summit 2017.

OC-LTE: Micro-LTE Base Station for Rural Access:

After Cavium’s announcement at MWC Barcelona regarding its commitment to contribute the reference design for LTE eNodeB, we kicked off the design effort with Cavium, NuRAN, Facebook and Keysight. Over the course of three months, the first batch of Rev-A baseband boards was delivered and Cavium’s team completed the bring-up process. The NuRAN team also delivered the 1800MHz front-end design, including an RF driver and integration work.

Similarly, Facebook and Keysight delivered OpenCellular’s firmware software and testing infrastructure. The OpenCellular-LTE team went through a series of hardware and software testing (including radio and core interoperability testing) and yielded Rev-B. The current version of OpenCellular-LTE is a production-ready, single sector LTE 2T2R MIMO @ 1W (1800MHz) per antenna port, which is capable of supporting 64/128 simultaneous active users and support TR-069, as the management interface. It can also support an additional computing board (GBC) to run additional applications.

The project group is actively working on other LTE bands in lower frequencies (700MHz, 800MHz and 850MHz). All hardware design files (schematic, layout, gerber, BoM) are now available.

Operator Interest:

The project group is very excited that mobile operators across various regions are testing OpenCellular as they look to bring connectivity to rural and remote areas of the world. Today we are announcing that we are initiating lab and field trials with MTN and Telefonica.

The trials involve various types of OpenCellular units (SDR, 2G, and LTE) and we expect the trials to take a couple of months. We appreciate the tremendous support from our project group members for these trials. This is a great opportunity for various OEMs and SIs to help us scale and navigate rural access challenges together.

Vodafone and Facebook will also work together during 2018 to evaluate how OpenCellular can be used to deliver low cost rural coverage in Africa.

OpenCellular Power: Open-Source (HW/SW) Solar Charge Controller for Rural Infrastructure

Deploying connectivity equipment in off-grid or weak-grid locations significantly increases the total cost of ownership, as costs increase due to energy generation (e.g., generators, solar PV), storage equipment (batteries), and additional balance-of-systems equipment. Furthermore, operating sites become more unpredictable due to fuel, battery replacement, and service costs. Key project group members, including Facebook, Delta, Bel Power, Panasonic and Clear Blue Technologies, have built a power system specifically for OpenCellular named OpenCellular-Power. Key features of the system include:

  • Ability to power a maximum total load of 150W through five individually monitored and switchable DC output lines;
  • Input of up to 1500W of solar power, grid power (through an adapter), or potentially other sources like wind;
  • Lithium ion battery module that can last for more than five years in extremely challenging environments;
  • Remote monitoring and controls; and
  • Open interface specifications to enable incorporation of HW and SW modules, including open-source hardware and software design for the charge controller.

We are excited to see the tests and trials of this new module and have high expectations that we will dramatically improve system efficiency.

OpenCellular Grant Program:

We are also excited to announce the OpenCellular Grant program to fund, promote and accelerate the non-commercial development and non-traditional deployment of OpenCellular in rural areas. Our aim is to advance the engineering efforts of OpenCellular in four categories, namely:

  • Developing hardware, software and testing frameworks;
  • Taking OpenCellular designs to small-scale production, preferably via local manufacturing, including methods for small-scale production testing infrastructure;
  • Connecting rural communities via community networks and other innovative deployment models, including new applications; and
  • Building the capacity for knowledge transfer to advance the ecosystem, including using lab kits for academic and research institutes.

We are accepting applications starting Nov 8, 2017, so please share your great ideas about improving rural connectivity using OpenCellular. More information can be found at oc.telecominfraproject.com.

OpenCellular-2G: Low-Cost and Low-Power Base-Station for Small Communities:

OpenCellular-2G is a carrier-grade GSM (GPRS/Edge) base-station designed and contributed to the project group by NuRAN Wireless. Thanks to its comparatively low total cost of ownership, it can efficiently provide connectivity to populations of 250-1000 people. It is single TRX, with 300mW output power and DC consumption of only 14 Watts.

OpenCellular-2G works with either NuRAN’s proprietary Base Station Controller (BSC) or OpenBSC (from the Open Source Mobile Communications Project) to form a complete radio access network that seamlessly integrates into an operator’s core network. It also features higher-level functionalities such as network-in-a-box and supports Community Cellular Manager (CCM). All the hardware design files (schematics, Gerber, BoM) will be available in the coming months.

OpenCellular-SDR Update:

Over the last few months, we hardened various OpenCellular-SDR components including hardware, software and manufacturing. On the hardware, we performed various environmental, HALT, and HAST tests. We are committed to OpenCellular-SDR and will provide more information regarding availability as soon as possible.

Next Steps:

We encourage others to join the project group or apply for OpenCellular grants so that we all can move faster towards our goal of solving the rural access problem and bringing more people online.