Communication technologies have been changing rapidly in recent years, and the development of the 5G network technology is now around the corner. The development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) applications further speed up the need for 5G communication networks. The development of 5G has become an important key indicator of a nation’s comprehensive power. Under the leadership of Professor Jyh-Cheng Chen of National Chiao Tung University (NCTU), Prof. Chen’s team has released free5GC, the first open-source core network in the world. Because of free5GC, some companies, such as Chunghwa Telecom, Wistron NeWeb Corporation (WNC), and EstiNet Technologies, are now collaborating with Prof. Chen. Based on free5GC, Prof. Chen’s team will further develop “private 5G networks” to enable innovative 5G services in specific areas such as smart factories, intelligent hospitals, smart transportation stations, airports, and seaports, which will make our daily life much more convenient.
Number 1 in the World
With the funding support from the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) in Taiwan, Prof. Chen’s team has developed free5GC, the first open-source 5G core network in the world conformed to the 3GPP Release 15 international standards. Any base stations or cellular phones complying with the international standards can work well with free5GC. The initial goal of free5GC was to provide academic researchers with a complete and reliable platform for testing and prototyping 5G systems. However, due to free5GC’s completeness and open source code, it has extremely high commercial value, especially in providing solutions for customized and localized “private 5G networks.” Because giants such as Nokia, Ericsson, and Huawei are committed to providing “public 5G networks” that are expensive and unfavorable for providing customized and localized services, the free5GC is a very attractive solution for private 5G networks.
Free the Limit of the Hardware
In the past, the computer industry was dominated by a few big companies, such as IBM, which sold the hardware and software all together. Nowadays, computer hardware and software are developed and sold separately by different companies, which makes the industry prosperous. Similarly, the emergence of Android software makes the smartphone market no longer monopolized by the iPhone. The cellular core networks have been dominated by Nokia, Ericsson, and Huawei. With free5GC, our dream is to “free” the cellular core networks. By using free5GC as the software, many manufacturers can build hardware for cellular core networks.
Attentions From All Over the World
Since the advent of free5GC, Prof. Chen’s team has received great attention from all over the world. Rice University in the U.S., for example, is developing massive MIMO base stations. The research team at Rice University is actively collaborating with Prof. Chen’s team and using free5GC as its core network. Through this collaboration, Prof. Chen’s team has promoted free5GC internationally. Prof. Chen’s team also received the Award of Futuristic Breakthrough Technology from the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2019. In addition, free5GC stood out from the other 88 award winners and further received “Global Number 1” as one of the eleven leading technologies in the world developed in Taiwan. The free5GC was also demonstrated in the Future Tech in World Trade Center in Taipei from December 5 to 8, 2019.
Prominent Research Center
Because of the rapid growth of free5GC, Prof. Chen’s team has received many interests from industrial companies. To host free5GC and provide more services to the community, Prof. Chen established “Communication Service/Software (CS) Laboratory.” Academic and industrial organizations can join the membership program of the CS Lab, which will provide different levels of service based on the member’s level. Some of these services include consultations, discounts for seminars, and early access to the source code of free5GC. Please refer to https://www.free5gc.org/ for more information.
Mobile Communication Small Company Alliance
Without support from government agencies, free5GC would not have been so successful. Special thanks go to the Ministry of Science and Technology, which has continuously supported Prof. Chen’s team dedicated to core network research since 2014. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Education have also been funding free5GC since 2018. Based on the spirit of open source, in the future, Prof. Chen’s team will provide professional consultation, prototype design, customized system design, and other services on 5G core networks to the industry. Meanwhile, the team will also create a “Mobile Communication Small Company Alliance” to collaborate with telecom providers, such as Chunghwa Telecom, and hardware manufactures to build customized and localized 5G private network services for factories, hospitals, transportation stations, and other particular fields worldwide. With free5GC as the software, we expect that many small hardware companies can break into the 5G industry, which is currently dominated by only a few giants. This will create new opportunities for small manufacturers and establish an unprecedented 5G ecosystem.
Prof. Jyh-Cheng Chen
Department of Computer Science, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan
Program Manager, Department of Engineering and Technologies, MOST