The Open Hardware Initiative – OHI 2007/2008

Returning from guifi.net’s SAX2007 the idea of building our own wireless router with preflashed FOSS firmware became my driving thought. I definitely wanted to go to Taiwan and talk to the OEMs there about FOSS. And after I had pulished the specs for the router on guifi.net, I was contacted by Florian Fainelli and Xavier Carcelle. Then we met in Berlin during Chaos Communication Camp in August 2007 where we agreed on the common goals for an Open Hardware Initiative. We gathered all the people we thought we could need and invited them for a two days meeting at the headquater of OpenPattern in Paris in Dezember 2007 and I sent out this text:

//My/our first goal is to achieve cheap FOSS compatible open embedded wireless hardware. I have been a wireless activist for many years and I know that the world needs cheep wireless devices (simple nodes), which come off the factory with e.g. OpenWRT or similar OS. Second we need a modular more comprehensive wireless router (super node) for backhaul infrastructure (http://wiki.freifunk.net/OpenHardware and more IEEE conform: http://openpattern.org/drupal/IEEE_HN1_Conf_OpenPatternProject_Article_071007.pdf) .

//The meeting in Paris, which is a co-conference to IEEE home networking 2007 http://home-networking2007.org/, shall be a first official get-together of FOSS developers, OEM industry, wireless activists, business people and FSF to have talks and workshops on various issues on the road towards OpenHardware. It shall target the following issues:////

1. What is open hardware in the sense of a licence?

We have a very first draft on this topic: The term OpenHardware refers to hardware, which is fully documented, with both specifications and documentation freely available, including the drivers and firmware required to make the hardware operational for its principle task. The source code of the drivers and the firmware as well as all items of the MIB should be directly available to the software developers. The product with the drivers and firmware are type approved globally and the purchasers are indemnified from any Intellectual Property claims. It must be possible to write free and open source drivers for this hardware without any restrictions or limitations. Furthermore, the hardware design shall be available so that anyone can access, modify and/or reproduce any of the hardware components. A licence is needed to protect “OpenHardware” <- Here we strongly see FSF !!!

2. Why is there a global need for cheap open source hardware (especially wireless routers)

Here we want to point industry to the potential markets in Afrika, Asia and even in USA an Europe. Over the last 5 years I have been working with wireless people from all over the world. There are wireless communities in almost every country and place on this planet. All they seek for are well designed cheap open embedded hardware. FOSS compliant hardware would prevent us from all the time and resources consuming reengeneering process a.s.o. There are millions of potential customers for wireless mesh devices like accesspoints or wifi-phones, etc …

3. What are the benefits of OpenHardware?

Today’s hardware development is split into separate hardware divisions across the industrial landscape resulting in individual development branches and only little innovation. OpenHardware will bring about dialogs between all parties involved – the producers, the customers and the consumers. By directly communicating with customers / communities / free developers, producers can access innovative input from outside the company itself on advices to improve their products thereby working closer on the consumers needs and ultimately widen their market. The customer could express needs for adaptation of old products or even lead the way to the creation of a totally new product altogether. These synergy effects drastically reduce the research & development costs, increase the number of potential customers and most importantly form the fundamental basis for a level of customer satisfaction demanded in the 21st century.

4. Why is this interesting for OEM producers?

Traditional OEM producers depend on external purchasers which commission a product to sell it by themselves via their established distribution channels. After finishing the production the result is handed over and the OEM has to find a new purchaser. OpenHardware designs would fill the gap between the producer and the actual market, by providing the necessary designs which can be produced and shipped without an external purchaser. The combination of modern marketing through Open Source Communities and customer networks reached over the Internet are the key to selling these products around the globe. The OpenHardware concept would allow for one product being adapted for several thousand completely different needs, as it could be shipped in parts and later be assembled at its final location, after being thoroughly customized to the situation at hand. OEMs could use the feedback and the contributed efforts to further improve their products and claim a strong share of the market. Furthermore, the community formed around an OpenHardware product could serve as a pool for the recruitment of capable and willing developers/testers or distributors who already know the product, thereby saving a lot of time in the initial and crucial phase of employment. Also would the customer bonding to the company increase dramatically, as the product is no longer developed for the consumer but with and most importantly BY the consumer.

5. New channels and ways of distribution

If you were buying a Linksys WRT54GL in India or Afrika it is about twice as expensive as if you were buying it in the US or Europe. Though produced in Asia for less than 10 Dollars, it is shipped and brandend into the western world, before it can be redistributed to Asia or Afrika. In the west i’ts at about 50 EUR and back in Asia it’s about 100 EUR. That is stupid nonsense, but has it’s roots in the trading tradtions formed over the last centuries. New e-business plattforms (webshops) and global logistics offer much more inexpensive and direct distribution channels to almost every place in the world. Community needs on a product are not so much about well designed boxing and accessoires, but much more about bulk boards packed in charges of 20, 50, 100 or even larges. Following these ideas it should be possible to sell wireless equipment for about 10 to 15 Dollars all over the world, but especialy in the developing countries. That’s what we want to achieve!I know that we cannot reach all these goals in just one meeting, but I am very sure that Paris will be a first important step in this direction. Also there will not be OpenHardware until we have open chips. So we need to see it as a phased model. Step one is cheap FOSS compliant wireless hardware off the factory.

And those were the people who came:

Andreas Langer – B.A.T.M.A.N.
Bernadette Huizinga – IICD
Etienne Flesch – openpattern.org
Florian Fainelli – OpenWRT / openpattern.org
Joy Tang – Accton / One Village Foundation
Juergen Neumann – freifunk.net / WSFII
Kerwin Royer
Khaldoun Al Agha – Paris XI University
Liang Tan – IICD
Marek Lindner – freifunk.net / B.A.T.M.A.N.
Mike Burmeister-Brown – Netequality
Nicolas Thill
Ousseni Zongo – IICD
Renaud Gaudin – Kunna Foni
Roger Balg
Saskia Harmsen – IICD
Vic Hayes – TU Delft
Wesley Tsai – TOSSOG Taiwan
Wolfgang Hauptfleisch – Hivenetworks.net, London
Xavier Carcelle – openpattern.org

A few weeks later we had a draft for our project:
History and background of Open Hardware Initiative (OHI)

The Open Hardware Initiative (OHI) is not simply a new kind of project: it seeks to pioneer a new kind of business culture. The blueprint for this new culture can already be seen in software development such as Linux, Word Press and Joomla, and through Web 2.0 social networking tools emerging throughout the
global online community.

Quickly being realised is that solutions come not just through the technologies themselves: they come through the way technologies are delivered. Empowering local communities means designing systems that can be tailored, on site, to suit their various and changing needs. One of the reasons this has not been achieved is that the solutions haven’t wholly served the needs of the people at the “bottom of the
pyramid”.

The rise of the internet, unlike any previous technology, brings with it a level of interactivity that fundamentally changes how society can communicate. These changes underpin the case for developing a new, truly P2P and open source-certified business model; a model that should signal a change in the very
essence of how we do business.
Background to the initiative

Free and open source software (FOSS) compliant wireless hardware is the last link in the chain to support access in rural areas. Wireless communities around the globe have demonstrated that FOSS architects can deploy mesh-based networks at very low costs, covering huge areas with affordable wireless
hardware. However, there still remains a major bottleneck hindering developments that can rapidly bridge the digital divide. A need to address the issue of hacking closed source hardware. This is one of the most time-consuming and critical issues on the path to a fully-realised wireless community vision. The main stumbling block is that customers are beholden to the manufacturers for customisation and upgrades.
This new collaboration builds on previous initiatives, including the UK project “Locustworld”. Like many others, it was Linux-based, open source software, but very quickly became ‘closed’. Running costs were also difficult to maintain. While it did indeed make giant steps in terms of affordability, and offered real
flexibility in configuration compared with commercial solutions, it was hard to install, still too expensive, and not really ‘open’ enough.

Subsequently, MIT developed a project called ‘Roofnet’. Based on much lower-cost hardware, it required no configuration, and was open source. Many successful networks began using this platform resulting in the founders starting a company, ‘Meraki’, to further its development. NetEquality stepped in and helped them with a pre-order for a number of routers and an additional pre-payment for future orders. The model has an open software and open hardware platform that anyone could use, build, and extend. However, Meraki hardware eventually became closed and Meraki bought the rights to the hardware from
DNI, a company based in Taiwan.
Pioneering a new approach to business

Conventional business approaches are based on proprietary technologies and pre-ordained obsolescence. It is commonly accepted that manufacturers discourage the servicing of their equipment out of a fear that people might find more innovative uses for their products. It is common to see the label “No User-Serviceable Parts Inside” stamped on the outside of product case or casting. We believe that this model is already obsolete and look now towards the creation of synergies through P2P business models, using huge groups of user innovators. With their market channels, the price of the hardware can be
significantly reduced.

The key to this business model’s success is encouraging local actors to “buy into” an open solution where they have the power to implement their own solutions, train local people to develop and support the hardware, and build completely new and unique solutions.
Description of the project

Resistance to ‘true’ open source solutions still exists in the hardware sector. Consequently, The Open Hardware Initiative has been designed to ensure it remains open for the whole community; making sure there is never any opportunity for external commercial dominance. The latest instance of this effort is built around a product developed by Antonio Anselmi. The system uses a new open-source mesh protocol called “BATMAN,” which is a vast improvement on all previous approaches to mobile, ad-hoc networking.

While the system is still completely open source, there are still a few vital ingredients missing. Enhancements are needed to make it truly ‘plug and play’; hardware must come pre-installed so no “re-flashing” is needed; and a back-end server to allow configuration, monitoring and the sending of alerts.

We are now seeking a manufacturer to collaborate with us to solve these issues. We hope for an agreement that can produce a certain amount of initial routers, in return for which the partner will have the opportunity to re-sell the model – along with our software – to any interested parties. This will mark the first tiny step towards a truly ‘open’ router.
Market Space

We believe a holistic approach is needed to effectively leverage the market place with a decentralised, bottom-up, P2P business model such as this. Our estimate is that wireless hardware manufacturers have achieved around 20% of the market in the developed countries. Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) have not even scratched the surface of the potential markets in emerging economies and they seem to have little knowledge on how to more rapidly tap into these markets and either increase sales or satisfy Corporate Social Responsibility commitments.

Through support of bottom-up economies and markets in developing countries, OEMs can increase their market by more four times the current share. It goes without saying that this is subject to the effective use of ‘economies of scale’ approaches, the incorporation of disruptive technologies and approaches and special attention to the need to re-think and re-design the traditional channels of distribution.

Next Meeting

The report of our meeting written by Vic included the the following:

Next, three day meeting will be held in Taiwan, in the April/May timeframe. Joy Tang and Wesley Tsai will be the hosts. Joy Tang and Saskia Harmsen will look for financial sponsors and Vic Hayes will organize an availability dates survey to help decide the date of the meeting.

… so Let’s go Taiwan!

While being in Paris Mike Burmeister-Brown told us, that he was the man behind Meraki, and that he had left them, cause they had turned the business from open into closed source.
At that time he already was on his way to get some outdated fonera designs from Accton, which he wanted to run with Antonio Anselmi’s robin firmware => check http://open-mesh.com

Full documetation:

http://www.xs4all.nl/~vichayes/OpenHardware/2007.htm
http://www.xs4all.nl/~vichayes/OpenHardware/2008.htm

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