Open-Source Software and SDRs: Alive and Well in 2018
By James Kimrey | Monday, September 10, 2018
In 2010, NI acquired Ettus Research, a small software defined radio (SDR) company in Mountain View, California. Many folks wondered why NI, a company that has a long history of developing and selling proprietary software, would acquire a company steeped deeply in open-source software and a key catalyst in GNU Radio, an open-source software initiative targeted at creating software for SDRs. Although NI had been selling proprietary software for over 30 years in 2010, I was intrigued by open-source software and its use in a variety of applications—particularly SDRs. It was a notable and undeniable trend. The world of software was evolving back then, and NI needed a position in open-source software to learn and evolve its business with it.
Open-source software initiatives require an active ecosystem of contributors to work effectively and, quite frankly, for the software to be useful and have a decent lifespan. NI recognized the GNU Radio community as having this potential. After all, SDRs need a nontrivial dose of software to be useful.
Perhaps the main attraction to the novice is the cost of open-source software. But there are other more compelling benefits—like enhanced security, quality, flexibility, and customizability to name a few—that open-source users will note. Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, once penned "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." This quote accurately highlights a fundamental tenet of the open-source movement. When more technical folks scrutinize source code, it becomes more secure and higher quality while users gain the flexibility to develop what they want and need without depending on the investments and direction of any commercial entity.
In the early days of Ettus Research, I had the privilege to work with Matt Ettus and learn from his vision of combining SDRs with open-source software. Matt accurately surmised that GNU Radio needed a thriving community for his company to grow. He personally spent countless hours supporting the GNU Radio initiative and sponsored many projects toward improving the code base and expanding the feature set. Any discussion regarding open source, SDRs, and GNU Radio would be remiss without noting Matt Ettus' leadership and significant contributions.
Although Matt Ettus left NI a couple of years ago, NI continues to invest in open-source software and to offer the Ettus Research brand of SDRs. As such, we're pleased to be a diamond sponsor at GNU Radio Conference 2018 in Henderson, Nevada. GRCon is the only conference that focuses exclusively on GNU Radio and SDRs and, from its humble beginnings to2018, the participation, excitement, and involvement of the attendees continues to grow year after year.
NI remains committed to open-source software and the future evolutions and use of SDRs in new and exciting applications that you, the GNU Radio community, will create!