Mirantis gros fromage quits to start new 'private LTE' biz on open-access spectrum

Open-source chap Boris Renski chats to El Reg about the near future


Interview The co-founder of Kubernetes cloud outfit Mirantis, Boris Renski, has left the business to start a new venture focused on 5G-based "private LTE" campus networks.

Speaking to The Register about his move, Renski explained a little about the technology and his decision to take a punt on it.

At the heart of his move is the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), which, despite the name, has nothing to do with truckers bellowing "ten-four, good buddy" at each other. Instead it is an open-access chunk of spectrum freshly reallocated from military uses to civilians, around the 3.5GHz band.

Most interestingly, from the entrepreneurial point of view, is that new 5G-compatible consumer and business radio networking gizmos (alright, we mean phones, tablets and dongles) will be capable of working on this new open-access band.

Explaining what new firm FreedomFi will be doing, Renski referred to a spark of inspiration he had while with Mirantis: "A large portion of our customers, historically, have been telcos. And because of that, we do a fair amount of work around some of the open-source projects that are, kind of, not purely cloud infrastructure related but are adjacent to the space in the telco 5G area."

His concept is a challenger in the "private LTE" space, which he characterised to El Reg as being broadly similar to enterprise Wi-Fi as a concept but with much greater potential for throughput, range, speeds and guaranteed quality of service.

Key to the lack of interference as a distinguishing feature over and above Wi-Fi, said Renski, is the CBRS concept of having an active, interference-avoiding network management station that deconflicts transmissions attempting to use the same band within range of each other, called a "spectrum access system".

"The way it works is that every CBRS antenna, or base station, has a GPS receiver and it connects to a centralised system called a spectrum access system," Renski told us. An advantage of this setup, he said, was that higher power base stations could be used to cover a larger area than current enterprise Wi-Fi deployments.

This also lends itself to range. During testing Renski told us his test CBRS setup was "able to go [out to] 2.7 miles and we were still able to maintain full throughput". He added that this meant they hadn't yet established its maximum range or been able to "push the limits".

Throughput, he claimed, was "between 40 and 50 Mbps per device", though we didn't ask whether FreedomFi has tested this under realistic network load conditions. This is considerably lower than the advertised Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax for the elderly) base speed of 1.2Gbps, though, again, that is an ideal theoretical maximum.

A favoured trick of 5G vendors and mobile networks is to give 5G devices to telly reporters who then show off implausibly high download speeds while conveniently forgetting to mention that they have an entire mobile network to themselves, complete with backhaul designed to handle tens of thousands of simultaneous connections.

FreedomFi currently has eight employees – "fairly small" as Boris put it – and its aim is to "become a co-innovation partner" for the companies deploying and using its technology. The Register will be keeping a weather eye on its exploits. ®

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