Economist rekindles open access chip debate

An unlikely open source champion

Chipmakers always face the dilemma of whether to open up their designs, increasing their market reach as well as placating the open source movement, or whether to keep their prime asset, their intellectual property (IP), close to their chests. Intel has come under much fire in the past for its hesitancy in supporting open source Linux on the Centrino chipset, but it claimed it could only support open source drivers if it was confident its intellectual property would be protected.

Now an unlikely open source champion, The Economist, has stepped up the pressure on chipmakers to open up. In a headline article, the magazine accuses Atheros and Broadcom, in particular, of failing to spur growth in Wi-Fi uptake by sharing technology, particularly with community and open source projects.

In fact, Atheros had made more progress than Intel (or Broadcom) in this respect, at least supporting Linux, protecting IP through a hardware abstraction layer or bridge, that protects the software defined radio while being accessible to open source drivers. However, The Economist argues that, by keeping low level radio functions secret, Broadcom and Atheros – the Wi- Fi market leaders – are discouraging wider uses of their chips and suppressing interesting projects from community wireless networking groups such as CuWIN.

CuWIN (the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network) aims to support selfconfiguring, mesh-based Wi-Fi networks using standard, old PCs with no set-up required. The basic unit could be a 486 or later PC with a bootable CD-Rom or floppy drive. Once booted, a PC finds other similar units automatically and forms a mesh. This low cost approach could be applied to developing nations and poor communities and the group is working with the Open Society Initiative and the Soros Foundation Network to create a resource guide for emerging economies that covers all the key issues for building a wireless network - regulation, configuration and installation – and how to make the use of outdated equipment feasible through software such as the CuWIN system, now in beta release.

Such projects are vital to economic development, but are dependent on programmers being able to access the chip technology and make it usable with Linux and other low cost technologies, says The Economist. Otherwise, innovation will be stifled in the wireless world, setting it behind the more open wired one. When CuWIN requested interface information from chipmakers, Broadcom and Atheros refused and other community initiatives, such as SeattleWireless and NYCwireless, have had similar problems, and are calling on regulators to enforce open access in the interests of stimulating wireless growth.

Broadcom and Atheros responded that making the interface information public would be illegal, because companies could change chip parameters – frequency or power, for instance – and so violate the rules of unlicensed bands. However, the projects claim they are only looking for interface information, not data on how the chip itself works, and that the FCC rules would apply only to the SDR component used in more sophisticated chipsets, which could still be protected.

Copyright © 2004, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

Related stories

Is IBM PC sell off preparation for a Power chip attack?
Atheros unveils 'world first' Wi-Fi access-point-on-a-chip
IBM does Linux-only dance on Power
IBM dishes out Power tools for Linux

Other stories you might like

  • Cheers ransomware hits VMware ESXi systems
    Now we can say extortionware has jumped the shark

    Another ransomware strain is targeting VMware ESXi servers, which have been the focus of extortionists and other miscreants in recent months.

    ESXi, a bare-metal hypervisor used by a broad range of organizations throughout the world, has become the target of such ransomware families as LockBit, Hive, and RansomEXX. The ubiquitous use of the technology, and the size of some companies that use it has made it an efficient way for crooks to infect large numbers of virtualized systems and connected devices and equipment, according to researchers with Trend Micro.

    "ESXi is widely used in enterprise settings for server virtualization," Trend Micro noted in a write-up this week. "It is therefore a popular target for ransomware attacks … Compromising ESXi servers has been a scheme used by some notorious cybercriminal groups because it is a means to swiftly spread the ransomware to many devices."

    Continue reading
  • Twitter founder Dorsey beats hasty retweet from the board
    As shareholders sue the social network amid Elon Musk's takeover scramble

    Twitter has officially entered the post-Dorsey age: its founder and two-time CEO's board term expired Wednesday, marking the first time the social media company hasn't had him around in some capacity.

    Jack Dorsey announced his resignation as Twitter chief exec in November 2021, and passed the baton to Parag Agrawal while remaining on the board. Now that board term has ended, and Dorsey has stepped down as expected. Agrawal has taken Dorsey's board seat; Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor has assumed the role of Twitter's board chair. 

    In his resignation announcement, Dorsey – who co-founded and is CEO of Block (formerly Square) – said having founders leading the companies they created can be severely limiting for an organization and can serve as a single point of failure. "I believe it's critical a company can stand on its own, free of its founder's influence or direction," Dorsey said. He didn't respond to a request for further comment today. 

    Continue reading
  • Snowflake stock drops as some top customers cut usage
    You might say its valuation is melting away

    IPO darling Snowflake's share price took a beating in an already bearish market for tech stocks after filing weaker than expected financial guidance amid a slowdown in orders from some of its largest customers.

    For its first quarter of fiscal 2023, ended April 30, Snowflake's revenue grew 85 percent year-on-year to $422.4 million. The company made an operating loss of $188.8 million, albeit down from $205.6 million a year ago.

    Although surpassing revenue expectations, the cloud-based data warehousing business saw its valuation tumble 16 percent in extended trading on Wednesday. Its stock price dived from $133 apiece to $117 in after-hours trading, and today is cruising back at $127. That stumble arrived amid a general tech stock sell-off some observers said was overdue.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022