What will the rise of open source mean for standardization and 5G?

itu-t blogOpen-source software makes its source code free for all to use, alter and share, giving a community of developers the freedom to extend software’s functionality and applicability. Industry players developing proprietary software were among the first to feel the disruption from open-source developments, but with the emergence of network ‘softwarization’ – demonstrated by the growing availability of general-purpose ‘white-box’ hardware – the networking business is now grappling with whether the relationship of open-source and proprietary developments will be one of coexistence or contradiction.

Open-source projects put more minds to the task of solving technical challenges and expanding access to technical capabilities. The community model of open-source development is extraordinarily agile, identifying and responding to user needs far more rapidly than the traditional standards world.

The interplay between standards and open source in the 5G era

Open-source developments are expected to play an important role in enabling the post-2020 ‘5G era’, an expectation supported by the centrality of open-source developments to the progression of software-defined networking (SDN), network-function virtualization (NFV), and cloud computing.

Speaking of the collaboration emerging between the corporate world and open-source communities at a recent ITU event, Karen Faulds Copenhaver, General Counsel of the Linux Foundation, said that with ICT companies coming together to identify the elements of ICT infrastructure to benefit from open-source innovation, open-source projects supported by corporates could lead to significant change in the way that ICT infrastructure is conceived and developed.

Dan Pitt, Executive Director of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), speaking at the same event, highlighted how ONF’s pioneering work on SDN led them to conclude that a cohesive relationship between technical standards and open-source software will result in significant benefits for ICT industry players and end-users.

Many open-source and telecoms communities have already recognized the value of greater collaboration, and most will argue that greater collaboration is inevitable. But, when considering how these communities will collaborate effectively, there remains a piece of the puzzle that stands out as particularly difficult to solve – intellectual property rights (IPR).

An upcoming event organized by ITU and NGMN Alliance will debate how IPR will affect the inevitable intersection of standardization and open-source development as we approach the 5G era.

Open source and IPR

The ITU-NGMN event will forecast the technical characteristics of the 5G era, sharing expert views on the expected interplay between standards and open-source developments and the modes of collaboration we may see emerging between standards and open-source communities.

The event will build on this technical discussion by exploring related legal challenges, tackling questions such as whether standards and open-source licensing regimes are compatible and whether open-source licenses should be pre-defined or left open to negotiation. Experts will weigh-up the relative merits of open-source and patent-pool licenses, as well as how we might mitigate the threat of ‘patent ambush’ in the 5G context.

At the heart of these discussions will be the question of what impact IPR will have on the efficiency of collaboration between standards and open-source communities, particularly with respect to implications for the incentive to innovate and contribute to standards development.

This workshop is an open forum and we welcome you to join the discussion.

NOTE FROM ITU: The ITU-NGMN Alliance workshop on “Open Source and Standards for 5G” will be held on 25 May at Qualcomm Headquarters in San Diego, California. Click here for details on remote participation. This will be followed by a meeting of the TSB Director’s Ad Hoc Group on Intellectual Property Rights from 26 to 27 May 2016 at the same venue.

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