The FCC last month certified Vanu's Software Radio GSM Base Station as the first commission-approved software radio.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell called the certification “the first step in what may prove to be a radio technology revolution.”

The FCC said the Vanu base station not only complies with commission rules but also has sufficient controls to prevent it from being modified to operate outside commission-approved parameters.

The base station was part of a trial deployment begun by Texas-based rural wireless carrier Mid-Tex Cellular in June 2003 to test the commercial viability of a software-based GSM/GPRS network. Phased installation of a Vanu-built software radio-based network has begun, with the complete rollout of a 20-site system scheduled for completion by the end of 2004.

Vanu CEO Vanu Bose said Mid-Tex opted for the software radio base station rather than traditional technology because it will allow Mid-Tex to expand its roaming relationships with Cingular and consequently generate additional revenues. Bose added that Vanu is in “some pretty serious discussions” with Nextel about developing an iDEN/GSM base station that would enhance the carrier's coverage in rural markets.

The FCC-certified base station's software runs on off-the-shelf hardware, which eases deployment and enhances scalability, according to Bose.

“They can build incrementally and buy only what they need now and add software later,” Bose said.

Although the commercial wireless carrier sector is the initial target market, Bose said public safety also is on the company's radar screen.

“Many police departments, especially in rural areas, don't have good coverage,” he said. “You could run something like Project 25 and GSM simultaneously on the same network. So rather than the police department building its own towers, which it can't afford to do in those areas, they can leverage the existing infrastructure.”

While calling the FCC certification a “positive step for the space,” Michael Grossi, wireless communications analyst for Adventis, suggested that software-defined radio vendors have some work to do before their offerings can be considered public safety-ready.

“More R&D needs to be done,” Grossi said. “But the industry they should be chasing is the military. They're usually ahead of the curve when it comes to testing new wireless technologies. If it suffices there, it's a pretty easy sell to the public-service and government sectors.”