Reliance Jio opens its purses for open source movement

Tux, the most recognized symbol of open source software |

Reliance Jio said it hosted the first ever India Digital Open Summit at its corporate park in Navi Mumbai.

Despite having a lot of users, India has very few regular open source events, and the most prominent of them, FOSS.IN, was last held in 2012.

Reliance Jio’s support comes in the context of the company trying to set itself apart from other telcos by embracing open source software.

Technologies tend to belong to one of three types — open source, open standard and closed.

Open source systems are built with unencumbered software that can be used without paying money to or getting a license from anyone or anything.

Open standards-based systems, such as GSM and LTE, are built by pooling patents that are contributed by many companies and individuals.

Though the standards and technology are ‘open’ and free to be used, royalties must be paid by those who use them. Nearly all telecom networks are built using such technologies.

The third type — completely closed systems — are becoming rarer and rarer and involve the use of proprietary technologies and platforms that are usually controlled by a single company.

Apple’s iOS, for example, can be considered a semi-closed system, as it does not share its code for the core, but exposes enough functionality to allow third-party software to ‘plug in’ or run on it.

The Internet, and most of the companies on it such as Facebook and Google, are built almost entirely from ‘open source’ code that are free for anyone to use and modify.

A large chunk of open source software is created by employees of companies like Facebook, Google, Red Hat and so on, both as part of their job and otherwise. In contrast, executives at proprietary companies such as Microsoft have compared open source software to “cancer”.

Jio indicated that it is looking to join the former camp and use open source software to expand and augment its network capabilities and applications. At present, no other telecom operator is involved with the open source community in any substantial way.

However, as telecom networks become more and more dependent on software, and less and less on hardware, the potential for open source technologies to play an important part in telecom networking is opening up. Thanks to increasing ‘softwarization’ of telecom, a switch from 3G to 4G can today be achieved by simply upgrading system software while it would have required the wholesale replacement of network hardware in the old days.

Akash Ambani, son of India’s richest person Mukesh Ambani, indicated that Jio would join the likes of Google and Facebook and step up to support the growth of open source software.

“At Jio, we are committed to contribute and use open source technologies to better our consumer experience,” said Akash Ambani, Director, Reliance Jio at the summit.

“The open source community will enable solutions for key verticals of digital India – agriculture, education, medicine, and financial technology, just to name a few.

“I believe that these technologies can impact every Indian in a profound way in improving their lives. Jio is committed to improve the lives of a billion Indians in a positive way and to get these technologies to every customer out there,” he added.

Interestingly, Linux Foundation, arguably the most powerful, non-corporate player in open source movement, was also involved with the conference. Another supporter of the conference was Cisco Systems, the network gear maker.

The conference itself was focused on open source networking technology. “The main agenda was to deliberate on how open source networking systems and platforms would transform and foster innovation and leadership across the entire digital ecosystem,” Jio said in a statement.

The one-day conference was attended by around 500 invited developers, policy makers and other experts.