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Cellular networks have evolved from old 1G analog system to latest 3G/4G high speed digital networks. They form a critical component of the economic and social infrastructures in which we live. They not only provide voice services, but also deliver alphanumeric text messages to the vast majority of wireless subscribers.

With cellular network coverage reaching about 95% of the population today, there is a wide set of different digital cellular technologies such as Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO), Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE), 3GSM, Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT), Digital AMPS (IS-136/TDMA), and Integrated Digital Enhanced Network (iDEN) used at various countries across the world. These cellular carriers use different networks and carrier restrictions.

To cater to the needs of a wide range of data-centric applications, such as games, multimedia messaging, and online shopping, the cellular networks started offering connections between their networks and the internet. But the outcome of such an evolution has not been possible with all applications and networks to the full extent throughout the world because of dissimilar systems, innumerable number of devices, incompatible applications, and different network policies. As a result, the focus is now on a more open technology.

The open cellular networks technology requires the cellular carriers to open their networks to any device or Web application. Its aim is to remove carrier restrictions and provide a way for innovation and better consumer choice.

FCC and Open Network Architecture

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is a United States government agency that was established by the Communications Act of 1934 as the successor to the Federal Radio Commission. It is the higher authority to regulate all non-Federal Government use of the radio spectrum (including radio and television broadcasting), all interstate telecommunications (wire, satellite and cable), and all international communications originating or terminating in the United States.

According to FCC, an Open network architecture (ONA) is the overall design of a communication carrier’s basic network facilities and services that permit all basic network users to interconnect to specific basic network functions and interfaces on an unbundled, equal-access basis. This concept has three integral components. They are

  • Basic Serving Arrangements (BSAs) – include the fundamental underlying connection of an Enhanced Service Provider (ESP) to and through the operating company’s network serving its customers.
  • Basic Service Elements (BSEs) – are associated with BSA and are used by ESP to configure an enhanced service. They also form optional capabilities to which the customer may subscribe or decline to subscribe.
  • Complementary Network Services (CNS) – include customer local services for which an ESP customer connects to the network and to the ESP.

The FCC has taken a small initiative toward wireless carriers in opening up their networks. In its rules for an auction of vacated broadcast TV spectrum, FCC is has obligated winning bidders on a small slice of that 700 MHz spectrum to abide by open access principles.

Cross System Engineering

There are many complicated issues and challenges in integrating 3G/4G systems with WLAN/WMAN. Broad functionalities require inter system co-operation. This seamless inter-technology has led to the new field, cross-system network engineering. It deals with the definition of methods and tools that support the interaction among independent access networks. It enables co-ordination in accessing networks based on the reallocation of users across different systems. It stimulates real innovations to leverage cellular radio technologies.

Open Cellular Network Benefits
  • Seamless mobility
  • All in one solution
  • Continued services across multiples accesses
  • Continued from personal situation to business situation
  • Improved convergence in terminal
  • Included access to forthcoming technological evolution
  • Assured steady revenues despite market evolution

IPv6 in Open Cellular Networks

The future interoperable, open network architecture will be based on the mobile version of IPv6 that forms the common basis for Beyond 3G mobile technologies. The integration of heterogeneous networks on a seamless IPv6 infrastructure paves a way for innumerable applications and services. The more suitable all IP network design for such an environment is based on the Evolved Packet Core (EPC) architecture that reduces latency and supports legacy GERAN and UTRAN networks, new radio-access networks such as LTE. Its PDN gateway controls all IP data services such as routing, allocating IP addresses, enforcing policies and providing access for non-3GPP access networks.

Companies on Opening their Networks
  • Sprint – Sprint Nextel is on its way to open network, open devices, no contracts, and open culture. This plan of Sprint has created an industry-wide buzz. It is applying its open access strategy to its Xohm WiMAX network that allows many different types of applications and devices to work freely on the network. The major challenges seen for Sprint’s envisioned open-access environment are the activation and billing problems.
  • AT & T – “You can use any handset on our network you want… We don’t prohibit it, or even police it. … We are the most open wireless company in the industry.” – Ralph de la Vega, AT&T CEO.  An AT&T SIM, when inserted in an unlocked device, can be run on their network without much hassle. AT&T claims that its network has always been open. It says that it will unlock phones for customers who either pay full price for a phone or fulfill their contracts. But this approach doesn’t make AT & T any more open and it is highly argued as there are unlock phones widely available and local shops offer unlocking of a GSM phone free.
  • Verizon – Verizon announced that it would support devices on its network that Verizon doesn’t sell. This enables the developers and manufacturers of handsets, non phone wireless devices like Internet tablets, ultramobile PCs and gaming devices to make devices that would work on Verizon’s network. These devices would be based on 3G network and UMTS technology.
  • Skype – Today, the cellular networks’ market is heavily controlled by carriers and they dictate the phones used on their networks, the content accessed by the users and the applications that run on the phones. There are also companies that use specific terms in their service contracts to prevent customers from downloading and using software from Skype on their networks.

In this background, Skype petitioned the FCC to force U.S. Cell phone operators to loosen their controls on what kinds of hardware and software can be connected to their networks. Skype cited the example of the Carterfone ruling of 1968 that allowed the consumers to hook any device up to the phone network so long as it did not harm the network. This ruling created a new market for home phones, answering machines, and modems. Further, Skype asked FCC to apply the Carterfone rules to the wireless industry.