router software

What happens when a Communication Service Provider opts for open-source router software?

by Kajsa Arvidsson

A leading Communication Service Provider in the UK describes their transition to developing their own in-house router software independent of the hardware. How did they end up here, and what does this mean for the customer premise equipment manufacturers?

The CSP perspective: increasing complexity, requirements, and business needs

As a market leading Communication Service Provider (CSP), this UK company serves the connected home market by developing and building routers and extenders for Wi-Fi connections. Each year, they can ship up to 2-3 million routers to serve their customer base. Traditionally, they have worked with customer premise equipment (CPE) manufacturers to develop new and innovative devices. But this is a major undertaking for both the CSPs and CPE manufacturers, and there are several challenges to consider. For instance, chipset scarcity, long production time, and the increasing list of requirements, not to mention the overall costs for resources, impact the time to market.

During the past 10-12 years, the number of requirements grew to the point where there were between 8,000 to 10,000. It had become more complicated to manage the whole process. They wanted to add more capabilities for Wi-Fi, dual-band Wi-Fi, voice, and IPTV support and offer more products such as extenders. The ability to monitor and gain insights about how the devices are used was also a vital functionality required to grow their business.

“We ended up building a significant team of people to effectively check on the compliance against requirements, but we weren’t actually in control of developing the software ourselves.”

This was a tipping point that motivated them to search for an alternative. How can they better leverage commercial opportunities for their products? How can they work more cost-effectively with hardware and router software? But most importantly, how can they eliminate the need to go back to square one every time they want a new hardware platform or vendor?

Hardware independent software

The answer was to separate the hardware from the router software and use open-source software such as OpenWrt* – a Linux operating system targeting embedded devices. They wanted to focus on a unified software layer that protected them from dealing with changes in the underlying hardware and focus on the end result instead. Plus, benefit from the control, speed, and security from the open-source Community. And this led them to IOPSYS as an open-source operating system partner providing IOWRT, a flexible and innovative open-source operating system for residential gateway and Wi-Fi devices on the market.

“We wanted to develop features and functionalities over the lifetime of a product, and we were aware that we couldn’t do everything ourselves. We wanted to enable third parties to operate in our ecosystem and bring their functionality to us in a timely fashion. Then we have a commercial agreement that allows us to use that functionality within our system. Open-source is the right choice for us.”

What does this mean for CPE manufacturers?

” We are still going to go out to the manufacturers to deliver requirements for hardware, but these are much simpler now. From a functionality perspective, they are smaller number requirements compared to everything we want.”

Another advantage for manufacturers is that they can deliver the product without having to know about CSP provisioning or the backend systems. In addition, the manufacturer can speed up the delivery of the end product because of fewer requirements.

Separating the hardware from the router software presents business opportunities for new segments of potential vendors. This means CSPs have the chance to go to vendors where they have hardware expertise but are not necessarily focused on software.

*OpenWrt is a trademark owned by software in the Public Interest, Inc.

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