March 2010

"Today's modern handset represents a 'melting pot' of communications and multimedia technologies."

R. Wietfeldt, Texas Instruments

Mobile is the editorial theme for this issue of the OSBR. This month's authors provide an overview of how open source fits into the world of handheld mobile devices, discussing everything from the hardware to the software applications running on the device. Their discussion is not limited to mobile phones as they cover other aspects of the complete mobile system, including transmitters and receivers. It is our hope that their insights prompt you to think about open source the next time you reach for your mobile device.

As always, we encourage readers to share articles of interest with their colleagues, and to provide their comments either online or directly to the authors.

The editorial theme for the upcoming April issue of the OSBR is Cloud Services and the guest editor will be Mike Kavis. Submissions are due by March 20--contact the Editor if you are interested in a submission.

Dru Lavigne


Open source software and hardware has become an accepted way of developing new and interesting applications in many information and communication technology domains: operating systems, databases, Web infrastructure, and applications. It's not surprising that with the increasing popularity of mobile handheld devices, users and researchers have explored the power of open approaches to providing innovative new applications and services in this domain. However, unlike personal computers and the Internet, mobile handsets were tightly controlled by mobile network operators (MNOs) who developed a vertical ecosystem by integrating the communication infrastructure, the handheld device hardware, and often the applications installed on those devices. The software and protocols running the mobile communications infrastructure and devices are often standardized by membership-only bodies, where large MNOs and manufacturers have a predominant influence. These players invest significant financial resources into shaping the industry along their vision to gain a competitive advantage. A current example is the ongoing battle about the dominant radio access technology for 4G cellular systems: LTE vs. Wimax.

These trends have changed recently. Companies such as Google, Nokia, or Openmoko and Industry Alliances such as the Open Handset Alliance are providing the core building blocks, both in hardware as well as software, of increasingly open mobile devices. This issue of the OSBR reviews the relevant trends in the open mobile platform space from a number of perspectives. As the articles in these issue show, there is a lot of exciting ongoing work that brings the power of open source development to the mobile space. This trend is not just confined to the mobile devices as there are also efforts in the development of open mobile infrastructure elements and whole systems.

Andreas Constantinou is the Research Director at VisionMobile. His article discusses the importance of governance models to understand the dynamics of an open source product, constrasting it to the better understood role of licences. Using the mobile industry as an example, he demonstrates how governance models can be used by open source sponsors to control the development of open source products, and argues for more education and clarity on governance models.

Jason Kridner is the open platforms principal architect at Texas Instruments Incorporated. His article discusses the challenges and successes in establishing a vibrant ecosystem around the BeagleBoard, a low-cost, fan-less single-board computer. The efforts within this community have allowed the BeagleBoard to become a versatile and powerful open embedded device.

David Burgess of the OpenBTS Project discusses the project's experiences, which will probably become the first case of a free software GSM basestation in a public cellular network. The article focuses on the challenges of the project, as well as the advantages of having followed the open source route.

François Lefebvre leads the Mobile Multimedia Broadcasting team at Communications Research Centre, Canada. His article surveys CRC's attempt to increase collaboration and innovation in the field of mobile broadcasting by developing and offering complete end-to-end free and open source software toolsets.

Carl B. Dietrich, Jeffrey H. Reed, Stephen H. Edwards and Frank E. Kragh discuss OSSIE, a university-based open source Software Defined Radio project at Virginia Tech. OSSIE software has proven useful for rapid prototyping by industry as well as for published research and education of hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students. In addition to examples of OSSIE's successes, the project's challenges and approaches to mitigating and overcoming them are described.

Hal Steger, Vice President of Marketing at Funambol, inc., introduces the cloud computing paradigm as a way to deliver mobile applications and data. His article discusses trends that are driving the adoption of the mobile cloud, important components of mobile cloud infrastructure, and the role of open source.

Bradley M. Kuhn is the Policy Analyst and Technology Director at the Software Freedom Law Center. He briefly reviews the history of free software in the mobile device space, focusing on both software and hardware. A review of the available alternatives to-date leads him to conclude that users, while able to access open code bases from major companies, are at the mercy of these companies. For a number of reasons, true software freedom on mobile devices is, as yet, an elusive goal.

Thomas Kunz, François Lefebvre

Guest Editors


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