Facebook Is Still Serious About Connecting the World | News & Opinion


BARCELONA—Facebook has spent the last several years experimenting with myriad ways to bring internet connectivity to the world, from dense urban centers to remote corners of the globe. It has laid down undersea cables and launched internet planes and drones, but Facebook’s most successful efforts have come through infrastructure partnerships and developing its own next-gen network tools.

MWC Bug ArtAt a Mobile World Congress here today, Facebook announced new partner initiatives and infrastructure tech to expand its global connectivity mission. Jay Parikh, Facebook’s head of engineering and infrastructure, touted significant progress with Terragraph, Facebook’s millimeter wave technology announced at MWC 2017, which has emerged from research and development with two trials: one with Deutsche Telekom in Budapest, Hungary, and another with Telenor in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Facebook is also working with Nokia on gigabit broadband trials to integrate Terragraph with Nokia’s wireless passive optical network (WPON), and with Intel and Radwin to produce a reference design for Terragraph. While Facebook’s Aquila drone internet project and Aries plane project are designed for suburban and rural internet solutions, Terragraph is a high-speed wireless system for urban environments using millimeter wave technology that operates in the 60GHz range.

MWC Facebook Jay Parikh

All of Facebook’s connectivity partnerships and technologies fall under the umbrella of the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), which now encompasses more than 500 companies, including new members such as China Unicom, Sprint, and Telenor. Facebook’s MWC press conference also featured reps from partners like Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, and Vodafone.


One of Facebook’s other major TIP projects is OpenCellular, an open-source wireless access system that Facebook developed and donated to TIP to give telecommunications companies more efficient hardware to build out optical and fiber networks.

The OpenCellular ecosystem is expanding; at MWC, Facebook and Telefonica announced they have completed initial high-speed mobile internet deployments in Peru, bringing internet access to tens of thousands of Peruvians including those in the Amazon rainforest. Telefonica is testing the ability to stretch 3G and 4G wireless to rural areas using Facebook’s OpenCellular LTE RAN platform, and Telefonica Technology and Architecture Director Juan Carlos Garcia said the provider plans to expand the rural connectivity to more countries in Latin America.

MWC Facebook Infrastructure Panel

There are also new OpenCellular trials launching in Africa through Vodacom and in Pakistan conducted by Telenor. Facebook announced a new backhaul network project with Orange set to launch in Africa as well, along with a joint OpenCellular trial with BT, Nokia, and Cavium to enable cloud-based remote auto-connection at base stations within rural communities in the highlands and islands of Scotland.

TIP partners are also beginning to roll out and test their own telco innovations. Vodafone announced a new TIP group called Crowd Cell, a plug-and-play architecture to extend the range of existing 4G networks using low-cost small cells. There’s also the new OpenRAN project, co-chaired by Vodafone and Intel, which is developing new high-power base stations using software-defined radio soon to be tested in upcoming trials.

Last but not least, Facebook is contributing a white paper to TIP’s Artificial Intelligence and Applied Machine Learning (AI/ML) project group. Artificial intelligence is becoming a bigger and bigger theme in building autonomous, self-learning telco infrastructure, and Facebook is exploring ML-assisted anomaly detection for its Terragraph millimeter-wave mesh networks. Facebook is building computer vision and network optimization tools to help avoid interference from objects likes traffic lights and stop signs within a city using 3D LiDAR data.

For the last several years Facebook has thrown every kind of connectivity tool and internet delivery method against the wall, but through TIP some of it is finally starting to stick.

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